Alex Salmond embroiled in spat with old university contemporary on landmark day for First Minister

Alex Salmond has been celebrating his time as First Minister. Picture: PA
Alex Salmond has been celebrating his time as First Minister. Picture: PA
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Anniversaries are supposed to be a time celebration and joy, even for political leaders. But as Alex Salmond marked his 2002nd day in office, overtaking Jack McConnell as the country’s longest serving First Minister, he was drawn into an unseemly spat with an old university contemporary over one of Scotland’s greatest intellectuals.

• Salmond believes the reputation of Adam Smith has been “used and abused” by think tank run by Dr Eamonn Butler

• The First Minister and Dr Butler were at university in St Andrews together

Salmond believes the reputation of Kirkcaldy-born Adam Smith, widely seen as the godfather of Western capitalism, has been “used and abused” over the centuries. And the chief culprit was named by the SNP leader as leading London-based think tank which bears the guru’s name, the Adam Smith Institute.

“Smith would have a pretty good case for suing the Adam Smith institute,” he told an audience of church leaders today. He added that the think tank is only familiar with the “Penguin editions” of Smith’s work.

But it emerged yesterday that the institute is run by Dr Eamonn Butler, a contemporary of Salmond’s, when the pair were at St Andrews together in the 1970s.

And Dr Butler wasn’t about to take lectures from the Scottish leader.

“We all have the ability to be insulting, but Alex, whom I knew at St Andrews, seems to regard it as an art form,” he hit back.

“I shall be pleased to send him copies of Adam Smith – A Primer, my dummie’s guide to all of Adam Smith’s work. It includes not just the Theory of Moral Sentiments but his lectures on jurisprudence and on literature, which Alex may not be familiar with.”

Too many politicians are keen to claim Smith “as their own”, according to Dr Butler who said an 18th century figure cannot be “parachuted” into today’s world

“One thing is sure, though. Smith would have regarded a nation, like Scotland today, that was dependent on government for nearly three-quarters of its national income, as being the most dismal tyranny,” he added.

Salmond, an economist himself, feels the ethics and morality in Smith’s work has been overlooked.

He told a Church of Scotland conference in Edinburgh yesterday today that when he was a student at St Andrews everyone read Smith’s Wealth of Nations, but not so many read the Theory of Moral Sentiments which set out his “compassion for other people.”

The First Minister insisted Smith is now “in vogue” in communist-run China with current Premier Wen Jiabao’s carrying a copy of the latter book wherever he goes.

Mr Salmond then referred to the people who “used and abused Smith’s name over the last couple centuries,” adding: “The Adam Smith Institute for example - if Adam Smith was alive I’m sure he would sue.

“They have a law going forward in the Scottish parliament which may extend the right to defamation to people who are dead.

“If that law were to apply to Adam Smith he would have a pretty good case for suing the Adam Smith institute.

“I also get the impression they’ve not just never read the Theory of Moral Sentiments, they’ve probably only read the Penguin edition of the Wealth of Nations – the bit that excludes the moral philosophy”