A politician's lot is a stressful one

It doesn't matter how comfortable you make a politician's working day. The job still makes them miserable.

So while Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly members earn at least £34,000, spend no more than three days a week in the chamber - and on a strictly nine-to-five basis - they are still just as stressed as their Westminster counterparts.

New research shows the assembly members suffered a marked deterioration in their mental health following their election last year.

One-in-four showed symptoms of stress at the time of the assembly elections, but that rapidly increased to one-in-three six months later.

Many had begun drinking heavily, smoking too much and suffering sleepless nights. They also suffered loss of confidence, headaches and indigestion.

The findings, presented to the conference yesterday by Dr Ashley Weinberg and Professor Cary Cooper, match a previous survey the pair undertook in 1997 into newly elected Westminster MPs.

But while Westminster is known for its late-night sittings, heavy workload and the family disruption it causes, the Scottish and Welsh assemblies had been trumpeting their working practices as "family friendly".

"I was really surprised by the findings. I thought family policies would make a difference but maybe the working practices are not as family friendly as they are made out to be," said Dr Weinberg of the University of Salford.

"Being a national politician is clearly a very stressful occupation. Change is needed to help politicians deliver their best on decisions that affect all of us," he observed.

The report was based on questionnaires returned to the psychologists by 105 assembly members, 73 from Scotland and 32 from Wales.

A spokesman for the Scottish Parliament said the findings were surprising. "When we talk about parliament sitting late that means until 7pm, which is when Westminster is often only just getting going.

"But MSPs are under different pressures. Everything is new here and they are feeling their way around," explained the spokesman, "I am sure they will all settle down."

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