Professor Neil MacCormick (1941-2009), lawyer, academic and politician, nominated
Adam Smith (1723-90)
John MacCormick (1904-61)
The Scottish contribution to the history of civilisation has been a large one, and includes much in the way of practical invention. More important still have been ideas contributed by Scots, and among these none have more significance than the ideas of Adam Smith.
'An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,' first published in 1776, is Smith's inspired statement of the principles of political economy and the merits of a system of free trade within a framework of public provision of public goods such as education. It is the greatest classic of what is now known as classical economic theory. Among its many virtues are included a careful regard to empirical evidence, acquired during his continental tour as tutor to the young Earl of Lauderdale, and a sound grasp of legal principles and an awareness of the need to set economic theory against its social background – Smith subscribes to, and makes good use of, a 'stadial' conception of human society, in which the age of hunters and fishermen is succeeded by that of the pastoralists, then an agrarian economy and finally commercial society. These are not presented by Smith as inevitably ordered historical stages, but more as ideal types of possible economies, commercial society necessarily presupposing some emergence from less developed forms.
'The Wealth of Nations' is unquestionably one of the greatest, most influential and most durable works of economic and social science. It is also the work of a philosopher – Smith was Professor of Logic for a year, and then Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow for 12 years from 1752. Working with ideas from his friend and older contemporary David Hume, he developed a theory of moral sentiments based on human beings' capacity for human sympathy, for feeling each other's pleasures and pains, and for joining with others in the resentment of harm inflicted by one person on another. The theoretical device of the 'ideal spectator' explains our ability to develop from raw emotions a rational and reflective body of moral opinions. It is important to remember that the political economist was also moral philosopher – and, indeed, jurist, though his lecturers on jurisprudence were never prepared by him for publication and survive only through students' notes. The history of human ideas will always contain a large chapter devoted to the thought and influence of Adam Smith.
Of all those to whom credit is due for the re-establishment of a Scottish parliament before the end of the 20th century, John MacCormick (1904-1961) belongs high on any reasonable list of original motivators. Although at the time of his death at only 56 years of age, it appeared as though his life's work had gone down in failure, the events of the years 1997-99 represented the fulfilment of ideas he advocated all his life.
His own story of the national movement in Scotland through to the early Fifties is told in his partly autobiographical 'The Flag in the Wind' (London, Gollancz, 1954). There, he recounts the story of the foundation of the National Party of Scotland in 1928, and the process of its merger with the Scottish Party, founding the Scottish National Party in 1934. He gives also his view of the split in the SNP in 1942, and the formation by his own dissident wing of the organisation 'Scottish Convention' that was to launch the Scottish Covenant in 1949.
The Covenant was an engagement of the signatories to do all in their power to secure the establishment of a Scottish parliament with full authority over the domestic affairs of Scotland. This idea was given a more detailed formulation in a paper, 'Blueprint for Scotland,' published by the Covenant Association. The scheme was for a Scottish parliament within a UK framework where defence, foreign affairs, currency and like matters were reserved to the UK Parliament and all domestic affairs entrusted to the Scottish Parliament. Two million out of three million electors gave their support in the Covenant campaign of 1949-51.
Of Highland background, with roots in Mull and Iona and Glenurquhart, McCormick in private was a man of poetry and romance, but in public a lawyer and practical politician with a gift for compromise and conviction in the virtues of constitutionalism and gradualism. A spectacularly good platform orator, he suffered acutely from stones in the kidney, which undoubtedly shortened his life.