Professor Christopher Whatley (b 1948), historian, nominated
Sir John Clerk (1676-1755)
Tom Johnston (1881-1965)
Terribly difficult to choose the greatest Scot in history, as so many individuals have particular admirable qualities – Bruce, Wallace, Burns and the rest – but I've chosen Sir John Clerk (1676-1755) as he seems to represent so much that is intrinsically Scottish but he's also rare in that he was also a politician who was genuinely committed to Scotland's interests. Even within the United Kingdom which the Union of 1707 created, Clerk never lost his commitment to Scottish history and culture, which he saw and understood in the broader context of Europe and the world.
A real Scottish patriot, then, as well as being a polymath. A man – and member of the Scottish Parliament – who more than most Scots recognised and wrestled with the age-old problem in Scotland's history: how to effect a working relationship with England and raise Scotland to a position of economic and political respectability in a fiercely competitive world without abandoning Scottish virtues.
Honest and a realist (and in some respects, contrary to his better-known contemporary Andrew Fletcher), he did not attempt to court popular favour with his views – he had somewhat reluctantly supported Union in 1706 and 1707. Clerk was also a fierce defender of Scottish independence and identity as exemplified in her archaeology, history and culture. He was well aware of Scotland's weaknesses and prepared to acknowledge and confront these. He was a European who befriended some of the greatest scholars of his time, and who contributed in a practical way to the improvement of Scottish agriculture and industry. He composed music (which has recently been recorded), wrote reasonable poetry and compelling and influential tracts on Scotland's condition. He spent much of his later life writing a little-known but enormously thoughtful 'History of the Union.'
As the greatest Scot of the 20th century, Thomas Johnston.
Striking as a man – a socialist – who recognised the need to trim while in power, but who at the same time held on to his principles. Johnston was enormously influential in left-wing circles in the early 20th century, not least through his editorship of 'Forward'. He was a passionate writer (if a less eloquent speaker), who in 1909 published 'Our Scots Noble Families,' an enormously popular and effective assault on the former abuses of power exercised by the Scottish landed classes. 1923 saw the publication of his seminal 'History of the Scottish Working Classes,' a landmark text in Scottish history.
His political career (he became a Kirkintilloch ILP town councillor in 1913) is marked by his practical achievements – in opening a municipal cinema, for example, along with other schemes which benefited the community. One of the 'Clydesiders' of the 1920s (elected in 1922, and the best according to Beatrice Webb), Johnston rose to national prominence as Secretary of State for Scotland between 1929 and 1931 and from 1941. Committed to the Scottish cause, but within a Westminster context, Johnston played an outstanding role in the regeneration of Scottish economic and cultural life outside as well as inside Parliament.
He straddles the century, having roots in the early Labour movement, but who in office set so much in train which would lay the foundations for the regeneration of Scotland which has occurred during the more recent decades.