Professor Robert Downie (b 1933), philosopher, nominated
Adam Smith (1723-90)
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928)
Scots have made outstanding contributions in the intellectual field, in practical matters including business, and in the arts. I was not allowed three choices, so I chose Adam Smith who was not only pre-eminent as an intellectual but also made a huge contribution to the justification of free trade, which is one foundation of business. Likewise I chose Charles Rennie Mackintosh because he was not only an innovative genius in art but also through his architecture influenced our conception of design and building. Let me develop this theme in more detail.
There are perhaps two connected criteria of greatness in the field of creative genius. The first is that the creative genius should take what has gone before in the activity – science, music, philosophy, literature – and transform it, give it a new twist, so that we can both recognise it as familiar and also through its impact be given a totally new vision. The second, which follows from the first, is that successors in the field should be enormously influenced. For example, in the music of Beethoven we can recognise the insights of his predecessors – Haydn or Mozart – but also the distinctive twist which Beethoven gives to that tradition, a twist which transformed the development of the symphony or sonata. Again James Clerk Maxwell, who was a Scot of outstanding genius, took the experimental work of Michael Faraday on electromagnetism and transformed it in a set of partial differential equations which all electromagnetic fields obey. The validity of the Maxwell equations is accepted world-wide to this day.
Adam Smith was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University from 1752 until 1764, but he generously and rightly acknowledges his debt to his predecessor and teacher, Francis Hutcheson, who was in the Chair from 1730 until 1746. Smith drew heavily from the ideas of Hutcheson, and from some French philosophers, but the outcomes in the 'Theory of Moral Sentiments' (1759) and 'The Wealth of Nations' (1776) show how these ideas can be developed in rich detail and transformed in the process. The influence of Smith, on the theory and practice of the free market, is felt world-wide to this day. It should also be noted that Smith was aware of the likely excesses of the free market and its destructive effect on those whose lives are dominated by it. In a very Scottish way, he tried to suggest ways of mitigating these bad effects through a system of universal education. He was also Scottish in his insistence on the importance of examinations!
A rather similar story can be told about Mackintosh – he draws from a tradition, but transforms that tradition in a striking way. Mackintosh's architecture was firmly rooted in the Scottish baronial style and influenced by his near contemporaries Rowand Anderson and Robert Lorimer. But this traditionalism was transformed into the strikingly original 'Glasgow style' and as such has exerted world-wide influence. When Scots turn in on their own traditions, the result is anything on the spectrum from complacency to self-pity, but when they look outward these traditions can flourish.