The renowned French philosopher Voltaire famously said: “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.”
What do penicillin, the telephone and television all have in common? While it sounds like the setup for an odd joke the answer is that they were all invented by Scottish people and it is often said that “Scots invented the modern world”.
Certainly, Scotland has been at the forefront of all sorts of revolutionary change from our architecture to our religion, arts, politics, literature and more. To explore and celebrate this rich heritage, we asked our Scotsman readers who their “most influential Scot of all time” was and in response we received hundreds of fascinating nominations.
Now, in this list condensed to seventeen nominations, let’s explore these Scottish icons and unpack their legacies which earned them the respect of being thought of as the ‘most influential Scots’ of all time.
1. Robert Burns
Robert “Rabbie” Burns is revered as Scotland’s national poet. His work which focuses on universal themes of romance and nature has won him the attention of global audiences. Burns Night, celebrated on January 25 every year, is a national day celebrated in his honour which is observed with traditional food and drink like haggis and whisky (quintessentially Scottish products) as well as recitals of his iconic poetry. Photo: via WikiCommons
2. Sir Billy Connolly
Billy Connolly (or the “Big Yin”) first took to the stage with his folk rock band “The Humblebums” which he performed in until 1974 when he moved on as a solo artist. During the 1970s, he transitioned his career from a musician into a comedic persona and then full-on comedian which he is now world-famous for. Smooth Radio said “Sir Billy Connolly is one of the most popular and successful standup comedians of all time.” Photo: via WikiCommons and ronmacphotos on Flickr
3. Charles Rennie Mackintosh
The Glasgow-born architect is famous for his Art Nouveau designs which exploded in popularity at the start of the 20th century. The Architectural Digest adds that he is “Best known for designing the Glasgow School of Art, Charles Rennie Mackintosh produced interiors, furniture, and posters with visionary style during the Scottish city's Arts and Crafts heyday of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” Photo: via WikiCommons and Geograph
4. John Muir
John Muir was born in Dunbar in 1838. He is known as the ‘founder of the modern conservation movement’ and was famously passionate about wildlife and natural places. He is credited as the “father of national parks” in the United States where Muir was involved in saving Yosemite Valley and founding the Sierra Club. Britannica wrote: “Muir's enduring contributions to the conservation and preservation of America's wilderness have been far-reaching.” Photo: via WikiCommons and Picryl