Politics, Economics and Social reform

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A clan parade in Edinburgh.
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  • The statue of economist Adam Smith on Edinburgh's Royal Mile.
    Father of modern economics, Adam Smith

Scotland's political landscape changed forever with the Act of Union in 1707 when the crowns of Scotland and England were combined to form Great Britain. Whereas some say Scotland declined in political importance, the figures that arose in the period afterwards would haughtily disagree having had a huge impact on British politics. While several became Prime Minister, other figures led the Scottish Enlightenment and formed the basis of our modern economy and the cherished idea of a welfare state.

Andrew Carnegie 1835 - 1919

Born in Dunfermline to a weaving family, Carnegie made a fortune in the steel industry in the United States. What is remarkable is that he gave a sizeable percentage of his wealth to causes he felt would benefit society and built over 2,500 free libraries throughout Scotland, England, the United States and Canada. He returned to Scotland and built Skibo Castle (well known as the venue for Madonna and Guy Richie's wedding) for his retirement. The Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in Dunfermline tells the story of this exceptional man. You can also learn more about him online from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

David Dale 1739 - 1806

Born in Stewarton, Dale joined with the English cotton-spinner inventor Sir Richard Arkwright in a short-lived partnership to build the New Lanark Mills. Dale improved the conditions of his employees, providing a balanced diet, free schooling and low cost housing. The New Lanark World Heritage Village is now a visitor attraction.

Rev Henry Duncan 1774 - 1846

Rev Henry Duncan was responsible for the world's first savings bank. It opened on the 10th May 1810 in Ruthwell, near Dumfries. The Ruthwell Parish Bank paid interest on the savings of locals and was intended to instil thrift and independence in the working man. The idea soon took off and before long, there were savings banks throughout Britain, Europe and America. Duncan was also a geologist and is credited with being the man who first identified a fossil footprint in Britaim at Cornockle quarry near Lochmaben. He also restored the Ruthwell Cross in 1818, which is one of the most discussed mediaeval monuments in the world.

Sir Patrick Geddes 1854 - 1932

Sir Patrick Geddes was born in Ballater. He began working in the national Bank of Scotland but went on to study botany at Edinburgh University. He did not enjoy formal study and left after only a week to go to London. In 1880, he returned to Edinburgh University and his wide field of interests led him to develop innovative urban renewal programmes, including the creation of the first student halls of residence. He was a believer in improvements to the environment, claming that humans prospered where there was fresh air, gardens and good housing. He purchased a building near Edinburgh Castle which he used as a 'social observatory'. It's famous camera obscura is still part of the outlook tower and can be visited to today. Geddes now influences civic planning throughout the world.

W. E. Gladstone 1809 - 1898

Born at Fasque House in Fettercairn, Gladstone is the grand old man of British politics. He was leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister in four governments from 1868 to 1894. He was responsible for major reforms in every sphere of national life and for the development of imperial and foreign policy. He stamped his moral authority on the politics of his time. He finally divided the Liberal Party on the issue of Home Rule. Gladstone was also a considerable scholar and author in his own right. Fasque House has an exhibition of William Gladstone memorabilia.

Ramsay McDonald 1866 - 1937

Ramsay MacDonald was born illegitimately to the son of a plough-boy and serving girl in Lossiemouth. He was elected the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924. He was re-elected in 1929 and later formed a collation Government with Stanley Baldwin in 1931.

Adam Smith 1723 - 1790

Born and raised in Kirkcaldy, Smith is known as the true founder of classical economics. One of his books, The Wealth of Nations, is one of the most influential works on economic theory. His theories are still relevant in today's economic climate.