Obituary: John Scott OBE, political economist

John Scott
John Scott
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Born: 3 July, 1932, in Thornhill, Perthshire. Died: 7 May, 2012, in Boat of Garten, aged 79.

John Scott was a highly respected political economist for whom the magnetic pull of southern Africa was a powerful force throughout much of his working life.

And though his roots always remained firmly planted in Scotland his affection for the African continent, south of the Sahara, afforded him a fascinating window on the life of the region over 30 tumultuous years.

He was described as the epitome of the wandering Scot; his career took him across several continents and he bore witness to the emerging African nations through a variety of roles.

He was a lecturer in what was then Rhodesia, adviser to the office of the Tanzanian president, director of economics at the Ford Foundation and principal economist in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Overseas Development.

Even retirement did little to dent his wanderlust. Despite concluding his career in Africa at the age of 60, he went on the work for the European Union in the South-east Europe, being honoured with the OBE for his services to economic reform in Georgia.

Although he was born into a family of fruit growers in Bridge of Allan, Africa was probably always in his blood – through contacts and family connections with the Moffats of southern Africa.

He was schooled at Dollar Academy, where he was head boy and Dux and went up to the University of St Andrews in 1951. During his time there he was involved in many clubs and societies, climbed Munros at weekends and worked as a navvy helping to build the Conon Hydro-Electric Scheme.

He also spent a year on an exchange programme at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, returning to graduate MA with double first class honours in economics and history in 1956.

Nicknamed Scotus, presumably after the Scottish theologian and philosopher John Duns Scotus, he lived up to his moniker at university where his room at the halls of residence became a centre for discussion and debate on politics, philosophy and religion – often enlivened by his dispensing of large quantities of fruit arriving from the orchards in Bridge of Allan.

After university he was called up for National Service, which he spent with the Royal Engineers in Kenya, before becoming a lecturer in economics at the University of Edinburgh in 1959.

His first overseas post was as a senior economics lecturer at the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in what was then Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia. And when he left there he began a 30-year career working for various international institutions, most of them related to Africa.

From 1963 to 1966 he was a World Bank adviser to the office of the first president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, in Dar es Salaam. In 1967 he went to the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington DC as an economic adviser, remaining for two years before joining the Ford Foundation, which had African offices in Arusha, Tanzania and in Nairobi, Kenya.

He worked as a director of economics with the foundation, advising the east African community, until 1973 when his next move took him to the European Commission. As principal economist with the Directorate-General for Overseas Development he had various overseas posts in Africa until 1986.

His nomadic career continued when he was seconded by the Commission to Norway and the Christian Michelsen Institute in Bergen, an independent development institute looking at the challenges facing countries including the African nations. Again his work was concentrated in south-east Africa but he still had a home in Scotland, a flat in Brussels and accommodation in a hotel in Kampala. His time on the African continent drew to a close in the early 1990s when he retired at 60. Almost immediately he was re-employed by the European Union, working on the future funding of south-east Europe.

He was mainly based in Georgia, then under the rule of the former Soviet statesman, President Eduard Shevardnadze.

He spent five years there, retiring for a second time in 1998, and was awarded the OBE, for his work on economic reform in Georgia, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 1999.

Throughout his working life abroad, he had an ability to seamlessly fit in with the locals wherever he found himself. On one occasion, having discovered a senior officer of the Tanzanian forces hiding in bushes at the bottom of his garden, he simply covered him with a rug, put him in his car and took him to the High Commission.

Years earlier, at the University of St Andrews, Scott had displayed a seriousness and maturity beyond his years, juxtaposed with a mischievous humour and delight in practical jokes which continued throughout his life. Once, contacting a friend ahead of his return to Scotland, he stated: “Arriving Edinburgh Airport Monday. Please arrange to have my tonsils out.”

Although he spent his career in far-flung spots he needed to feel his roots still remained in his homeland and had properties in Loch Awe and later on Speyside where, in 1982, he bought his final home, Dallas, in Boat of Garten.

Having married his second cousin, Mary, in London in 1995, in retirement his love of travel continued in the company of his wife. They had had flats in Devon and Edinburgh and often spent time abroad in Madeira and North Cyprus.

A man of formidable intellect, with an expansive knowledge of the economics of the European Union and Africa, he influenced the future of many students in his time and had latterly hoped to continue to pass on his accumulated experience either through lecturing or writing.

Frustratingly, having never quite identified another academic niche, he eventually found himself constrained by a hereditary condition that resulted in him being registered blind.

Nevertheless he kept in touch with world events through radio and with lifelong friends through the telephone, his sharp mind still eagerly debating economics and the state of the country.

He is survived by his wife Mary and his two sisters, Helen and Margaret.

ALISON SHAW