Professor Geoffrey Barrow (1924-2013), historian, nominated
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79)
Sir James Black (1924-2010)
The field of choice [for greatest Scot in history] is large and choice is difficult. Two Scots who for different reasons may be called 'Scots by adoption,' namely Saint Columba and Saint Margaret, had to be rejected for various reasons. William Wallace and Robert the Bruce both have strong claims, the former perhaps rather stronger than the latter. I reject them because what they are both most famous for is the establishment and confirmation of Scottish nationality and Scottish political independence, so that they can be compared only with other national heroes of the same type – William the Silent or George Washington, for example.
In intellectual and creative spheres, John 'Duns' Scotus, David Hume, Robert Burns and Walter Scott were all giants. Certainly any one of the last three could well qualify as the greatest Scot in history. My choice has fallen on James Clerk Maxwell because by translating the observations of Michael Faraday on electricity and magnetism into a mathematical theory of electro-magnetism and of electro-magnetic waves he provided the theoretical basis for a significant area of modern physics, influencing such leading figures in this field as Hertz, Michelson, Morley and Einstein. If mathematics and physics are the supreme sciences, it is hard to think of any Scot who has been more influential in either of them than James Clerk Maxwell.
If Scots who lived into the present are allowed [in greatest Scot of the 20th century], Andrew Carnegie must rank very high indeed, while Alexander Graham Bell would have some claims. John Logie Baird, as the inventor of the first practical television, must find a place among the great in world terms, even though his particular system has not been generally adopted. Higher than these I would rank Sir Alexander Fleming, Nobel Prize-winner in 1945, for first pointing the way to the use of penicillin in the treatment of wounds.
Among those who belong to the 20th century by birth, I put James Black first because of the outstanding contribution he has made to medical science, especially for his development of 'beta blockers.' Black won the Nobel Prize in 1988.