He was the Fife-born pioneer of what we today call economics.
As author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published in 1759, and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, first published in 1776, Adam Smith championed the benefits of specialisation and free trade, creating the very idea of the modern market economy that dominates the free world today.
And yet apart from the local college and theatre taking his name, Smith, who taught at Glasgow University and lived and is buried in Edinburgh, has been neglected by his home town of Kirkcaldy where he wrote his most famous works.
That’s all about to change, however, as finishing touches are made to a £1 million exhibition and heritage centre in Kirkcaldy which will celebrate the world-renowned legacy of the moral philosopher and economist.
The Adam Smith Global Foundation exhibition centre, due to open in September on the site of where Smith grew up at the east end of Kirkcaldy High Street, will feature interactive exhibitions about the man as well as offices, meeting facilities and a timeline.
But there’s more to the project than just a building. Having put Adam Smith back on the Kirkcaldy map through the centre, prestigious lectures, and annual dinners, there’s a greater long term ambition to use Smith as the catalyst to combat poverty, promote education and enterprise, and regenerate the heart of Kirkcaldy by transforming what is arguably its greatest asset – the waterfront.
“There is a long term ambition to get World Heritage status for the merchants quarter and next steps include how we link the Smith experience from the Auld Kirk (where he was baptised) all the way to Dysart, “ said Labour Fife councillor Neil Crooks who chairs the multi-agency Kirkcaldy Ambitions Partnership.
“The aim ultimately is to make Kirkcaldy a destination for millions of people around the world who are influenced by his writings and fascinated by his connections from Rabbie Burns to Abraham Lincoln and the American constitution.
“I recall one local man say to me about Smith, is that the guy who made big fireplaces for stately homes? Many people in Kirkcaldy know little of their famous son but that will change as the stories and history emerge from the darkness into the light”.
It’s not just local people who have been taught a lesson. When UK Communities Secretary Eric Pickles visited Kirkcaldy in February 2014 to see what the grant funding was achieving, he said he thought Smith was born in Edinburgh and would “educate” his fellow Cabinet members when he returned to London. That connection to Edinburgh and Panmure House is well established but as this project has progressed, international interest has grown from USA, Australia, France and China who want to know more about his Kirkcaldy connections.
Former Kirkcaldy Labour MSP Marilyn Livingstone has been chief executive officer of the Adam Smith Global Foundation for the past three years. She holds up Dundee’s ambitious waterfront project as an example of what Kirkcaldy should aspire to.
And it’s the idea of Smith as a ‘Local Hero: Global Icon’ which will be celebrated when the Adam Smith Global Foundation holds its annual charity dinner at Adam Smith College in Kirkcaldy on Friday night.
She said: “The big vision is about doing what Dundee did. Dundee has done an amazing job. They did that slowly and bit by bit. It was really hard for us to raise £1 million for the first part of this project. “But we did it. And I think what that proves to people is that we can do it in bite sized chunks, but let’s not lose site of the ultimate aim.
“Smith was part of something much bigger – the Scottish Enlightenment. He met Robert Burns. He was friends with Hume and James Watt. He helped write the first amendment to the American Constitution. It’s about the world at that time as well – the French revolution, the American war of independence, the Jacobite rebellion. It goes on and on.
“So let’s use that legacy to draw in tourists from cruise ships. Let’s tie it in to a Scottish heritage trail. We’ve already spoken to the American Consulate. The interest is there.
“Kirkcaldy’s Gallatown is amongst the top 2% deprived communities in Scotland. If we can use Smith to enthuse our population and get pride back in our community, then let’s do it.
“Kirkcaldy’s greatest asset is its promenade, yet we’ve got our backs turned to it. So let’s turn it around and build closer links between the High Street and the waterfront.
“The tightness of funding will always be an issue. But let’s do this bit by bit and let’s do it right.”
Kirkcaldy SNP MSP David Torrance said: “I would like to congratulate everyone involved with the Adam Smith Global Foundation for all the hard work they have put in.
“His legacy has been underutilised in the past and the work they have done and will continue, will help highlight not only his legacy, but will provide a major attraction for visitors in the area. This will be invaluable in helping to increase footfall in the town centre and help in its regeneration by boosting the local economy.”
*Tickets for the Adam Smith Global Foundation dinner at Fife College on Friday April 22 cost £40 per person. For enquiries contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01592 267171