50 Scots shaping world culture

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THEY are among the brightest and best that Scottish culture has produced.

Combined, they represent Scotland’s cultural establishment – a distinctly new establishment, based on talent, achievement and influence. Selected by The Scotsman’s respected team of critics, the discussion was heated; names were thrown in and thrown out, others survived only after slipping rank.

You may disagree with the inclusion, position and omission of some. You may even feel we’re cheating by including people not born in Scotland; we decided on a Saltire Society-like approach which would allow in people who have made Scotland their home or have strong Scottish connections. The fact that we have chosen to list influential figures rather than simply famous ones is deliberate: we want to start a debate.

There is an added element, however. As the list shows, Scottish talent has influence far beyond our borders. But there is a growing sense of unease at home. The recent row over plans for a national theatre has kick-started a broader and more bitter argument – four years after devolution, many feel let down by what they see as the Scottish Executive’s lack of commitment to the arts. It is a charge angrily denied, but the Scottish Arts Council’s latest funding package did little to silence it.

That this is happening while Scots enjoy such international success is a paradox which deserves examination. Our top 50 will certainly have changed by the time we publish next year’s list; perhaps the energy of those who remain globally influential will have been better harnessed at home, perhaps some dynamic new names will arrive to entertain us – and to rattle our politicians.

1. JK Rowling


Rowling’s success is so closely associated with Scotland - famously, the first Harry Potter book was written in a cafe near her Edinburgh home - that our panel decided unanimously she had to be on the list. And, once on, there was little doubt where she’d be. To get so many children so excited about reading is some achievement. To millions of them, 21 June 2003 means only one thing - the day Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be published.

2. Irvine Welsh


Reviewers were divided about Porno, in which Welsh revisited the Trainspotting crew ten years on. His readers, however, weren’t, boosting sales to over two million. As well as books, Welsh’s work with his film production company, 4-Way, and extensive author tours in the US mean that few Scots have been more influential in propagating an image of their native land abroad, albeit an unflattering one.

3. Cameron Mackintosh

Theatre producer

A distinguished career as a theatre producer and promoter - and more recently owner of seven West End theatres - has made Mackintosh one of the most powerful players in commercial theatre worldwide, and earned him a knighthood. Born in the Home Counties, the man behind such global smash hits as Miss Saigon and Les Miserables now says he feels most at home at his Highland base in Tarbet - despite a suspected arson attack on his house three years ago.

4. Ewan McGregor


Our most bankable film star, McGregor earned stardom as Renton in Trainspotting and cemented it as Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels. He recently resigned from Natural Nylon, the production company he ran with Jude Law, but he hasn’t been idle. His backing got David Mackenzie’s Young Adam made and, in the upcoming Down with Love, he plays Rock Hudson to Renee Zellweger’s Doris Day.

5. Lynne Ramsay

Film director

The Glaswegian director established herself as our most original filmmaker with Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar. Her next test - which may move her on from critical to box-office success - is to film Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. She promises to avoid sentiment, making the story’s heaven resemble the stripmalls of the Midwest. While Ramsay isn’t as famous as some other members of our top ten, her status as woman of the moment (even Spielberg leaves her messages) pushes her up the list.

6. Sean Connery


Thanks to James Bond, Connery remains the most famous living Scotsman. In 2002, he led 10,000 pipers through New York as part of the Tartan Day celebrations. A recipient of the Wallace Medal for film and charitable works, Connery is now the populist face of the SNP. It’s not all good news, though; he has abandoned plans to launch a Scottish film studio and closed Fountainbridge Films, which produced Entrapment.

7. Alan Cumming


Catapulted to fame by a colossally successful run in the 1998 Broadway production of Cabaret, Alan Cumming established himself early on as a performer of huge versatility and charm, combining a gift for comedy with a capacity for real depth. Today he is building a major Hollywood career, has co-founded a theatre company in New York, and is set to star in a new gay sitcom produced for network television by Steve Martin.

8. Brian McMaster

Director, Edinburgh International Festival

McMaster was appointed director of the Edinburgh International Festival 12 years ago, after a successful 15-year stint at Welsh National Opera. Since 1991 he has sustained the Festival’s position as one of the world’s premier arts events, despite its modest budget and an increasingly competitive international festival scene. He was knighted in the 2003 New Year honours list for services to the arts.

9. Neil MacGregor director, British Museum

MacGregor holds the rare distinction of having been successive curator of two of the world’s greatest museums. Director of the National Gallery in London for 15 years, he moved on last year to become director of the British Museum. A passionate champion of the value of art and the importance of access to it for all, he has brought to the stuffy world of curating the great Scottish tradition of democratic intellect.

10. Evelyn Glennie


Glennie has famously overcome deafness to build a career as one of the world’s most respected solo percussionists. The Aberdonian has made it her crusade to commission and perform globally major new works by leading composers, including James MacMillan’s concerto Veni, Veni Emmanuel, and to give percussion a new-found respectability.

11. James Macmillan


Ayrshire-born MacMillan is Scotland’s most successful living composer. Since taking the Proms by storm in 1990 with the orchestral piece The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, his music has been played throughout the world and commanded unqualified respect. The Scottish Parliament opened to a MacMillan fanfare commissioned especially for the occasion.

12. David Byrne


Although more usually associated with the New York punk scene of the late 1970s, the ex-Talking Heads frontman-turned-world music guru was born and spent the first few years of his life in Dumbarton. In addition to the Heads’ enduring influence on rock and pop, his My Life in the Bush of Ghosts collaboration with Brian Eno provided a blueprint for the ambient genre. He currently runs the Luaka Bop label, but has also written the soundtrack to the forthcoming film Young Adam.

13. Peter Maxwell Davies


He may once have been known as the bad boy of British music with his anarchic 1970s ensemble The Fires of London, but Sir Peter Maxwell Davies bears enormous influence on Britain’s musical scene, mainly through his association with Orkney’s St Magnus Festival. In its 26-year history, the festival has provided a springboard for many of today’s leading composers. It has also witnessed some of the UK’s most significant premieres, many of them by Orkney-based Davies himself.

14. Harry Benson


The Glasgow-born photographer’s first big break was capturing the Beatles’ famous 1964 pillowfight (they had just found out that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was at number one in the USA). Since then he has photographed everyone from pop stars to President Reagan, and developed a Zelig-like habit of being at the heart of major historical events as they happen, including the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the conflict in Bosnia and the attack on the Twin Towers.

15. Billy Connolly


The Big Yin is the greatest comedian to emerge from Scotland in the last 50 years. From his earliest shipyard days as a part-time folk musician, his talent marked him out for star status, and today he is a major international player not only in comedy, but as a straight actor in movies such as the Oscar-winning Mrs Brown. Since its publication in 2001, his wife Pamela Stephenson’s biography Billy has sold half a million copies.

16. Iain Banks


One of Scotland’s bestselling novelists, Banks shot to fame with The Wasp Factory in 1984. Since then, he has published 18 more novels, nine of them science fiction written under the name Iain M. Banks. The Crow Road and Complicity have also been adapted for the screen. While some of his recent works have lacked the innovation of earlier books such as The Bridge, this has done nothing to dent his popularity.

17. Michael Caton-Jones


If he did nothing else, the Broxburn director gave Leonardo DiCaprio his first big break, in a starring role alongside Robert DeNiro in his 1993 film This Boy’s Life. His Highland epic Rob Roy was overshadowed by the inferior Braveheart, and thus did little to brighten his reputation as a reliable, if sometimes uninspired, director of Hollywood genre pictures: see The Jackal and the current release, City by the Sea. His next project, an adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos, should change that.

18. Craig Armstrong


Since winning the Young Jazz Musician of the Year title 20 years ago, Armstrong has played in a host of Scottish pop outfits and produced and arranged albums for Madonna, U2, Bjšrk and Massive Attack. Currently one of the most in-demand composers in Hollywood, he has written scores for Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge (for which he won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA) and The Magdalene Sisters.

19. Douglas Gordon


Winner of the Turner Prize in 1996 and celebrated as one of the leading international artists of his generation, Gordon shot to fame with 24-Hour Psycho, his version of the Hitchcock film slowed down so that it took a full day to project. His recent retrospective, occupying the whole of the Hayward Gallery, is probably the biggest solo show any Scottish artist has ever had. It was also an exhibition that declared the artist’s roots.

20. Catherine Lockerbie

Director, Edinburgh Book Festival

Since Catherine Lockerbie became director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2000, there has been unprecedented growth in its size and reputation. Audiences have increased by over 60 per cent, with some of the world’s greatest writers and thinkers appearing alongside the best of Scotland’s own literary talent. Lockerbie has also staged high-profile events in New York and Sweden.

21. Jamie Byng


Last year’s annus mirabilis with Yann Martel’s Booker triumph and Michel Faber’s blockbuster bestseller, The Crimson Petal and the White, will continue to cast a golden shadow over Canongate, the Edinburgh publishing house, as worldwide paperback sales kick in. This year’s catalogue is no slouch either, and Byng’s informal link-up with Grove Atlantic’s Morgan Entrekin means that any successes it does throw up might also be expect to be picked up in the States.

22. Robert Carlyle


After two era-defining hits - Trainspotting and The Full Monty - Maryhill’s favourite son experimented with blockbusters before forming 4-Way Pictures with Antonia Bird, Mark Cousins and Irvine Welsh. So far the company has been associated with films about drug rehab and football hooliganism, but its most ambitious project is still to come: Jamie MacGillivray, in which Carlyle takes the role of a Highlander exiled to America during the Clearances.

23. Aly Bain


Aly Bain MBE and, since 1999, an honorary Doctor of Music, richly deserves his decorations. The Shetland-born musician has done more for the fortunes of the Scottish fiddle tradition than any of his contemporaries, with persistent touring throughout the UK, Europe and North America. He first married Irish and Scottish musical elements in the Boys of the Lough and has since transferred his passion for global collaboration to the small screen.

24. Andrea Calderwood

Film producer

Calderwood’s rise to the top ranks of British filmmaking has been swift. After studying at Stirling University, she was head of drama at BBC Scotland by the time she was 28. She was executive producer on Hamish Macbeth and Looking after JoJo, and was instrumental in the making of films such as Mrs Brown and Ratcatcher, playing a crucial role in the burgeoning career of Lynne Ramsay.

25. Allan Shiach

Film producer

Shiach earned cinematic immortality by co-writing the screenplay for Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Writing as Allan Scott, he also worked on Danger Man and a raft of Hollywood pictures, among them Castaway and Regeneration. He has been prolific as a producer, too. As chairman of the Scottish Film Council and Scottish Screen, he also spotted the potential of Shallow Grave, launching the careers of the Trainspotting crew.

26. Brian Cox


Our most distinguished screen actor to date, the Dundonian was first to shape the role of Hannibal Lecter with his 1989 role in Manhunter. Moving to Hollywood in 1995, Cox won an Emmy for his portrayal of Hermann Goering in the TV drama Nuremberg and an Emmy nomination as Daphne’s dad in Frasier. He has also favoured left-field projects, among them L.I.E., Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation.

27. Ian Jack

Editor, Granta

Editor since 1995, Jack has ensured that Granta has retained its position as Britain’s pre-eminent literary magazine. A former reporter, journalist and one-time editor of the year, he retains an eye for good writing about important subjects. He is also seen to have huge reputation-building powers, although some of the choices on this year’s Granta list of Britain’s 20 best young novelists were controversial.

28. Giles Havergal

Theatre director

Since Havergal first arrived at the Citizens’ Theatre 33 years ago, the actor, director and creator of inspired stage adaptations (along with Philip Prowse as a director and designer and Robert David Macdonald as a playwright and translator) has created a benchmark for what repertory theatre can achieve, impressing the world with his fearless theatrical style and his extensive repertoire of European classics. Now in their final year at the Citizens’, all three enjoy international reputations and careers.

29. Ian Hamilton Finlay


The sculptor, gardener and "concrete poet" is one of the very few Scottish artists to have carved out a truly international reputation without leaving the country - indeed, for many years, without even leaving his home in Little Sparta, the remarkable landscape garden that he has created in the Lanarkshire hills. Finlay has also had exhibitions and made commissioned works in many of the principal cities of Europe.

30. Peter Mullan

Film director

A charismatic actor who learned his craft in community theatre, Mullan announced his arrival as a director in 1997 with Orphans. International recognition came with his performance in My Name Is Joe, which won him the best actor prize at Cannes, and his reputation has been enhanced by The Magdalene Sisters, which won the top prizes at Toronto and Venice in 2002. The film also earned condemnation from the Vatican and, consequently, box-office success in Italy and Ireland.

31. Albert Watson


Albert Watson may call New York home but he was born and educated in Scotland, so we’re claiming him as one of our own. Best known as a celebrity snapper, he’s also a leading fashion photographer. The fact that his work has appeared in the majority of the world’s glossy magazines (his 250 covers for Vogue are just a fraction of his total output) is a fair indication of just how much he has done to shape the images of our time.

32. Grant Morrison

Comic-book writer

For over a decade, Glasgow’s Grant Morrison has been regarded as one of the most original writers in the comic-book industry. His graphic novel Arkham Asylum sold 200,000 copies in its first three months of release. Not only that, St Swithins Day, about an attempt to assassinate Margaret Thatcher, and The Invisibles, his series about a group of anarchist terrorists, both had questions raised in the House of Commons. It is often claimed that The Invisibles inspired The Matrix, although Morrison’s name does not appear in the film’s credits.

33. Ian Rankin


Britain’s top crime writer by a long shot (his sales account for 10 per cent of all crime fiction books sold), Ian Rankin will be boosting current US sales with a major tour in February and March. His Rebus novels are translated into 22 languages, and sell well from Scandinavia to Australia. The latest, A Question of Blood - about a shooting in a South Queensferry school - will be published in August. All this means that Rankin’s views are taken very seriously.

34. Rankin


Rankin may speak fluent mockney, but don’t be fooled; the photographer was born in Glasgow. In 1991 he and another recent graduate, Jefferson Hack, scraped together enough money to publish the first edition of Dazed & Confused, and the magazine became the last word in cool. Rankin has since established himself as one of the most sought-after music and fashion photographers of the last decade, creating iconic images of everyone from Madonna to U2.

35. Eileen Gallagher

TV producer

As managing director of Shed Productions, Eileen Gallagher has presided over the creation of Bad Girls and Footballers’ Wives. Her career began in 1984, when she joined STV as a press officer. She was made director of broadcasting at STV in 1992, and went on to become managing director of LWT. In addition to heading Shed, Gallagher is the chairwoman of PACT, which campaigns to ensure the survival of independent TV producers in the UK.

36. Robin Robertson

Literary agent

Sometimes dubbed "the godfather of Scottish literature", Robertson is the editor credited with launching many of today’s Scottish writers onto a worldwide stage. His proteges include Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner, A.L. Kennedy, James Kelman, Janice Galloway and Bernard MacLaverty. Robertson himself is a respected poet; his first collection of verse, A Painted Field, was voted the Saltire Scottish First Book of the Year in 1997.

37. Colin Hynd

Director, Celtic Connections

The artistic director of the annual Celtic Connections festival of folk, roots and world music should be celebrated not just for providing a reason to get out of bed during a dreary January, but for enhancing Glasgow’s global reputation as a centre for vibrant culture - and a good night out. This year the musicians, and the fans who travelled to see them, have gone home buzzing after the festival’s tenth anniversary run.

38. Paul Laverty


The lawyer-turned-Amnesty activist has written four films for Ken Loach, of which three - Carla’s Song, My Name Is Joe and Sweet Sixteen - have been set in Scotland, helping define the careers of Peter Mullan and Martin Compston (who both won Best Actor awards at Cannes for their performances) and, to a lesser extent, Robert Carlyle. He also won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes for Sweet Sixteen. A further Glasgow film is planned for this year, made with Loach and producer Rebecca O’Brien.

39. Robbie Coltrane


A stage and screen actor of huge intelligence and charisma, Coltrane shot to television fame in the Cracker series during the 1990s, and is internationally known today as Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies. A Glasgow School of Art graduate, Coltrane had an impressive stage career in Scotland in the 1980s; and his immense talent, now combined with major movie earning power, ensure that his potential clout far exceeds his apparent wish to exercise it - yet.

40. Alan Warner


It is a measure of Alan Warner’s reputation as a novelist that even before Granta published its list of best young British novelists last month his was one of the few names most people agreed would be on it. Lynne Ramsay’s magnificently moody film adaptation of Morvern Callar opened in the States this month to critical acclaim and expectations are also high for the screen adaptation of his third novel, The Sopranos, for which he has co-written the screenplay.

41. Shirley Manson


The opinionated rock goddess has gone far since her days with Goodbye Mr Mackenzie. As the fiery frontwoman of transatlantic rock quartet Garbage, she has taken her Scottish tones and outspoken views around the world. She’s kicked up a stink on a host of subjects, has penned and sung a Bond theme and modelled for Calvin Klein. Things may be about to change; Manson seems keen to take a break from music to start a family.

42. James Cosmo


A character actor who, along with former Eurythmic Dave Stewart, is planning to build a film studio in Inverness. Cosmo was inspired to move into production through his experience of the filming of Braveheart. He hopes the studio will lead to the growth of an indigenous film industry. He has a raft of films awaiting release, though the fate of his most ambitious project, a biopic of Burns from a screenplay by Alan Sharp, is uncertain.

43. Bill Forsyth

Film director

With his first four features - That Sinking Feeling, Gregory’s Girl, Comfort and Joy and Local Hero - Forsyth established the notion that it was possible to make witty films in Scotland, about Scotland, without pandering to stereotypes. His career waned during an unhappy period in Hollywood, despite making the excellent Housekeeping, the underrated Breaking In and the little-seen Being Human. But his influence remains huge, and it is to be hoped that he will recapture his enthusiasm for filmmaking before long.

44. Pete Irvine

Events director

The man behind Regular Music and now Unique Events transformed Edinburgh’s Hogmanay from just another drunken street party into one of the most successful New Year celebrations in the world. He has also been the director of the Capital Christmas programme for the last three years, the director of the Glasgow Art Fair since its inception and is currently working to expand the scope of the annual Burns And A’ That Festival he started up last year. In 2001 Irvine received an MBE for services to the City of Edinburgh.

45. Angus Farquhar

Theatre producer

At 41, Angus Farquhar is possibly the most exciting director working in Scotland, a fearless and internationally recognised pioneer of the interface between theatre, sculpture, live music and installation art. In the 1980s he was a founder member of the radical music group Test Department, but today he is better known in Scotland for his breathtaking landscape art project The Path, staged at Glen Lyon in 2000. He also represents Scotland on the arts advisory committee of the British Council.

46. David Jones

Games designer

After leaving his job as an electrical engineer at Dundee’s Timex factory in 1988, David Jones quickly made a name for his company DMA with the massively popular game Lemmings. However, he is best known for creating the ultra-violent Grand Theft Auto series, in which the aim of the game is to steal cars, kill policemen and run over pedestrians. Jones has since left DMA and has set up Real Time Worlds, where he is developing the possibilities of online gaming.

47. David Harrower


A tough choice between David Harrower and David Greig; Scotland’s best known young playwrights are frequently talked about in the same breath. Still only in their early 30s, both shot to fame in the mid-1990s in a fashionable new wave of British theatre. Harrower’s first play, Knives in Hens, received scores of productions across Europe, while David Greig has written more than a dozen successful stage plays. Harrower pips Greig to the post due to the sheer international impact of Knives in Hens.

48. Colin Baxter


A native Englishman but an adopted Scot, Baxter started his own picture business in 1982, after completing a photography course at Napier University. He began by producing four picture postcard designs and, travelling all over Scotland in his Morris Minor, selling them to any newsagent or gift shop that would stock them. Three decades later, postcards and calendars bearing his trademark misty landscapes are arguably as big a part of Scotland’s image abroad as tartan and shortbread.

49. Tilda Swinton


Born in London, but now very much at home in Scotland, where she lives with the playwright and painter John Byrne. While Byrne is immensely influential in Scotland, Swinton’s acting career makes her a more international figure. Currently she has one cautious foot in Hollywood (roles in last year’s Vanilla Sky and this year’s Adaptation) and one on home soil (she will soon be seen with Ewan McGregor in Young Adam), and her views on the film industry command attention - she made headlines last August after attacking the UK Film Council.

50. Trisha Biggar

Costume designer

Best known for her lavish designs for the new Star Wars prequels, Biggar trained at Wimbledon School of Art and began her career working with several prestigious British theatre companies, including the Citizens’ in Glasgow and Opera North in Leeds, before moving into film and television (her credits include Moll Flanders, for which she received a BAFTA). Biggar’s influence is arguably limited to a particular area, but her link to Lucas’s films broadens it considerably.


Not in the top 50 any more, but not forgotten either...

Richard Demarco

Director and artist

Demarco’s passion for the arts is still as strong as it was in his 1960s Traverse days. He may be less prominent now but, at 73, he shows no sign of slowing down, championing international theatre and fronting a new art website, Blink Red.

Alasdair Gray

Author and Painter

The author of Lanark, the greatest Scottish novel of the 20th century, is often spotted working on his murals in the Ubiquitous Chip, a project he started 25 years ago.

Muriel Spark


Educated in Edinburgh, Spark gave us Miss Jean Brodie in return. She now lives in Tuscany and recently sent a goodwill message to pupils attending the Lyceum’s stage production of her most famous novel.

Alan McGee

Music mogul

The man who discovered Oasis - and, at the dizzy height of Britpop, introduced them to Tony Blair. He’s now going back to his indie roots with the Poptones label.

James Kelman


Trainspotting may have put Irvine Welsh at number two in our chart, but Kelman covered the territory first.



She’s still our greatest female pop star, despite competition from Sheena Easton and Sharleen Spiteri.

Jim Kerr


A skinny, globe-straddling pop star in his Simple Minds days, Kerr now lives above the restaurant he owns in Glasgow.

Murray Grigor


A hugely gifted documentary-maker, this is the man who coined the term "Mockintosh".

Eduardo Paolozzi


Paolozzi was a key figure in the birth of pop art thanks to the famous lecture, Bunk!, he gave at the ICA in London in 1952.


Shaping the arts within Scotland

James Boyle

As chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, Boyle allocates 60 million among Scotland’s arts organisations. He also has power as a lobbyist, and has exercised it very publicly this year, accusing the Scottish Executive of failing to support the arts.

Mike Watson

As disillusionment spreads over the Executive’s arts policy, Mike Watson, the culture minister, has come under fire. In his defence, he has a wide portfolio (culture, sport and tourism). Still, he holds the purse strings, so it’s up to him to make an impact.

John McCormick

Controller of BBC Scotland for the past decade, last year he oversaw a 23 million rise in investment and the launch of River City. He is also chairman of the Edinburgh Film Festival and a board member of Scottish Screen.

Kirsty Wark

Scotland’s most respected broadcaster, with a keen interest in the arts, Wark is also influential through her BAFTA-award-winning company, Wark-Clements, which produces children’s programmes, comedy and drama, and which is currently making a major Channel 4 series on the First World War.

Bridget McConnell

The director of culture and leisure services for Scotland’s biggest local authority, the First Minister’s wife oversees Glasgow’s museums, galleries, festivals and arts initiatives.

Sir Timothy Clifford

The director of the National Galleries of Scotland is charged with buying art for the nation (recent purchases include Botticelli’s Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child and Canova’s The Three Graces).

Stuart Cosgrove

As Channel 4’s Nations and Regions director, it is his remit to develop TV production outside London (and, therefore, 28 percent of all Channel 4’s commissions). He has just launched a search for new Scottish talent.