PART of my weekend I devoted to going through the Rich List in The Sunday Times. It is not a newspaper I normally hold in high regard, because of its anti-Scottish tone. But the list gives a lot of information not easy to obtain elsewhere, certainly not in any official statistics. So it is worth looking at for the light it throws on our own economic concerns, even if the editorial aim is to make readers in the Home Counties drool in fascinated delight.

First thing that strikes you: when it comes to riches, Scotland is below the UK average. Of the 1000 people on the list, 79 are Scots, when in terms of strict proportion to the population there ought to be 83. It is the same when we move up among the elite of 145 billionaires: again Scotland is below the average, and perhaps further below the average than the list makes out, as I’ll explain later.

These are not big differences, and they are only to be expected. On most economic measures Scotland comes below the UK standard, so it is no surprise that levels of personal wealth reflect this. Money is concentrated in the south-east of England. Indeed I would think this must have been the case for 100 years, since the end of the First World War brought steep decline on the outlying regions of heavy industry, perhaps primarily to Scotland but also to Wales and to those parts of England with coalmines and steelworks. All the economic policy of the century in between has not been able to redress the balance.

Added to this long-term trend in what we used to call the real economy, there has arisen in recent decades a second effect. As the greatest financial centre in the world, with a light regime of regulation and tax, London has attracted much of the footloose capital that globalisation generates, together with the people who own it. There’s no obligation on them to become residents of the UK, but in its opulent metropolis there is nothing their money can’t buy and nobody to stop them buying it.

That’s why when you look at the top 10 of those 1000 on the Rich List, nine were born outside the UK. They are all immigrants of a type, we may presume, that even Theresa May doesn’t want to turn away. The sole example of a native Brit is the Duke of Westminster, who owns most of the land in Mayfair and Belgravia where the others live. For sheer money the Duke even outdoes the Queen, who has her main palace in the same area but otherwise is a mediocrity compared to her neighbours. In the first list, published in 1989, she came in at number one, followed by many of the aristocrats who attended her at court. Today she is down around number 300, below even pop stars and actors sprung from the working class.

But let’s take a closer look at Scotland. Again, on the Rich List there are several people of non-native origin among our billionaires. The oddest examples are the Norwegian industrialist siblings Trond and Marit Mohn, who were born in Buckie, where their family had taken refuge from the Nazi occupation of their native land. But they went home straight after the war and, as far as I can trace, they have had no other connection with Scotland, so it is only an accident of birth that makes tenuous Scots of them.

Even that meagre connection is more than can be said for Mohammed al Fayed or Mahdi al Tajir. Forsaking the desert they have led the Arab acquisitions in the land of the mountain and the flood, Fayed with his estate at Balnagown in Easter Ross, Mahdi with his at Keir in Perthshire; he also owns Highland Spring nearby, proving that Scottish water can be successfully privatised. But without doubt their main interests lie outside Scotland. The same is true of Kiran Mazumdar, the Indian pharmaceutical entrepreneur, who gets into the list because she has a Glaswegian husband, John Shaw. They are the second richest Scots of all, but their fortune is owed to Biocon, their flourishing business in Bangalore, for which their commercial ambitions lie all in India rather than in Scotland. I doubt if, in an independent nation, these people would be paying much of their tax to it.

At the same time I agree with the Scottish Government that this should be an open, inclusive country that welcomes everybody ready to make a contribution. Still, as a journalist and historian I am interested in factual accuracy, and I really do wonder if the people I have named can justifiably be counted as Scots, at least when it comes to making an economic assessment of Scotland’s riches. I don’t want to exclude them, but I’m not sure whether they really count. If not, our number of billionaires is reduced from 11 to seven, not the 8.3% we might expect from our share of the UK population, but a mere 4.8%. On that basis, it would be fair to say Scotland does not at the highest level beget as much financial success as England does.

And is it financial success of the same kind? Just as in England, the Scottish titled aristocracy has largely dropped out of the Rich List. Ownership of land, by the Argylls, the Buccleuchs or the Sutherlands, is no longer the key to wealth and influence. Riches do on the other hand remain to some extent dynastic.

The Gordon clan of distillers make Grant’s, Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, as well as Hendrick’s gin, while the DC Thomson family of Dundee have given the nation the Beano and the Dandy. But their success is owed not to blue blood, rather to the fact that no products could be more Scottish and more popular.

Otherwise, the Scottish billionaires are all newcomers to their fame and fortune. There is Sir Ian Wood, the Aberdonian oil tycoon and philanthropist. There is Philip Day (actually English), the retailer who bought the Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group in 2002. There is the Clark family of the Arnold Clark car dealership. There is Jim McColl, native of Carmunnock and now chief executive of the industrial investment company Clyde Blowers, who has been helping to save what remains of our shipbuilding industry. And there is Jim Mellon, the only Scots financier who outdoes the hedge-fund managers in the City of London.

Taken together, these billionaires seem to me a more varied and a more useful bunch than their English counterparts, for the most part engaged rather in physical production than in mere finance.

And they do not on the whole belong to the gilded exclusive caste of hereditary wealth which is supposed, according to other columnists in this newspaper, to hold the rest of us in political, economic and social subjection. On the contrary, Scotland is somewhat different, as ever, and different in a beneficial way.

My view is that we should be proud of these native sons and their success, and I hope they will soon be joined by some native daughters too. We should be proud rather than hostile and resentful towards them, or eager to dispossess them of the just proceeds of their own hard work.

Perhaps readers who think otherwise would let me know which of them they would expropriate and why, and how their contribution could be replaced.

In general I believe it would be wise of the nationalist movement to make clear it foresees a future where the rich are allowed and encouraged to flourish – as the only way, in the long run, of redressing the balance for the poor as well.