Obituary: Paul Henderson Scott

Following the sad death of Paul Henderson Scott, Scottish PEN President Carl MacDougall remembers his life and impact on the arts in Scotland and around the world.

March 29, 2019

Following the sad death of Paul Henderson Scott, Scottish PEN President Carl MacDougall remembers his life and impact on the arts in Scotland and around the world.

As many members will now be aware, former Scottish PEN President Paul Henderson Scott died at his home in Edinburgh on 16 March 2019 at the age of 98.

Described as “one of the most vital cultural figures in the Scotland of his era” during the 1990s he was everywhere: Rector of Dundee University, Vice President of the Scottish National Party, President of the Saltire Society and from 1992 to 1997, President of Scottish PEN. During his time as President, the 1997 International PEN Congress was held in Edinburgh, bringing almost 400 delegates from across the world to Scotland.

He was instrumental in establishing the Advisory Council for the Arts in Scotland. He campaigned for the establishment of a National Theatre with the hope of giving it a permanent home where the Scottish Parliament now sits. He also fought for Edinburgh to be designated UNESCO’s first City of World Literature. He also successfully opposed the proposed closure of the National Portrait Gallery.

Paul was active in the Association for Scottish Literary Studies and the Scots Language Society, was a member of the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly and part of the Yes campaign in the 2014 Independence Referendum. He was also a lifelong member of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society and during a diplomatic posting inaugurated dance classes in Bolivia.

Paul Scott was born and educated in Edinburgh. He left the Royal High School in 1939, enrolled in Edinburgh University in October that year and as a member of the Officer Training Corps was called up to active service in July 1941. He was stationed at various ­training bases until October 1944 when, with the 52nd [Lowland] and later the 7th Armoured Divisions, he was involved in the operations to drive the Germans from the Rhine to facilitate the advance to Berlin. In January 1945, he was seconded ­briefly to the Desert Rats before reaching Berlin in August. For the next four years Captain Paul Scott was in the Political Division of Military Government of Berlin, including the period of the Soviet blockade and the Air Lift, working on the eventual restoration of power to the Germans. 

Following a transfer to Bonn in 1949, Major Paul Scott joined the senior branch of the Diplomatic Service and served in the Foreign Office, being posted in Bonn, Warsaw, La Paz, Havana, Montreal, Vienna and Milan. He was in Cuba during the missile crisis and become friends with Fidel Castro, who gave him cigars when he left and offered to buy his sports car.

In May 1953, Paul married Celia Sharpe. They had two children, Alastair and Catharine but later divorced. In 1977, while he was Consul General in Milan, Laura Fiorentini was his Italian conversation teacher. When he retired from the diplomatic service in 1980 she accompanied him to Edinburgh where they later married. Laura is an Honorary Member of Scottish PEN.

Remarkably, Paul wrote 15 books and edited nine. His subjects included Water Scott, John Galt, the Union of Scotland and England, Defoe in Edinburgh and Scotland in Europe.  He edited Andrew Fletcher’s United and Separate Parliaments, updated David Daiches’ Scotland: A Concise Cultural History and his autobiography, A Twentieth Century Life was published in 2002.

Paul’s funeral service is on Tuesday, 2nd April, at 2pm, at the Warriston Crematorium Lorimer Chapel. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.