The hero Scotland forgot

By Tim Luckhurst (THE TIMES, 01/11/06):

HOW IRONIC that next May’s tercentenary of union between England and Scotland will coincide with the appearance on English banknotes of the Scottish economist Adam Smith. The author of The Wealth of Nations knew the value of his homeland’s partnership with its neighbour.

The Scotland into which he was born in 1723 was a recovering bankrupt. The United Kingdom restored its fortunes by granting full access to English markets. The instinct that Smith would christen enlightened self-interest was freed and Scotland thrived.

His analysis of this prosperity described for the first time concepts including the functioning of markets, the division of labour and the virtue of free trade. He pioneered understanding of the symbiosis between profit and public good and is admired for it wherever enterprise has spread liberty, prosperity and self-reliance. But not in Scotland, where there is no public statue of the father of modern economics. Schoolchildren learn about Red Clydeside, not political economy.

A monument to Donald Dewar, the creator of the devolved Parliament that looks set to sunder the Union, stands in the centre of Glasgow (where it is routinely vandalised). Smith is all but anonymous. No wonder. He reminds Scotland’s subsidy- addicted political establishment of their abject failure to promote enterprise.

Why would they bother? While Scottish economic growth lags consistently behind the English average and the scale of state employment constantly grows, £20 billion simply drops into their laps every year from Whitehall. It funds public spending per Scot of £7,597 (in 2004-05), £1,034 more than the equivalent figure for the United Kingdom. Smith would have deplored such contempt for market forces.

Visitors in search of his memory are mystified by the absence of public acclaim. Next year they will finally get a bronze statue of Smith, funded by private subscription, installed on th Royal Mile in Edinburgh by the Adam Smith Institute. Sadly it will appear amid the devolution-inspired nationalist upsurge that is imperiling the Union and threatening yet more intense reliance on socialist economics. Scotland may finally be forced to acknowledge Smith, but it remains destructively determined to resist his philosophy.