IT was interesting to learn from the Sunday Times rich list that the wealthiest man in Scotland is a Dane, Anders Povlsen, the fashion tycoon who owns the international clothes retailer chain Bestseller. He is worth £4.7 billion, which is not far short of the entire Scottish Government budget for capital investment in the current year.

As a foreign businessman, he might have become a target of abuse from progressive Scotland and especially those of my fellow columnists in these pages who represent its views. But, being a Dane, he is pretty progressive himself and I have never read a bad word about him.

He counts as a Scot for the purposes of the Rich List simply because he owns so much Scottish land – 221,000 acres of it. In fact, he is the biggest landowner in the country after a systematic series of acquisitions. He now has a string of estates from Glenfeshie in the Cairngorm Mountains to Eriboll in Sutherland. On them, he has started a process of rewilding, that is to say, of bringing them back to their primeval condition before a human population encroached.

It was native Scots that first denuded these areas of forest, then kept them bare by raising sheep. Most of the sheep are now gone, too, and the main economic value of Highland mountain and moor lies in the game birds and animals that roam them ready for super-rich huntsmen to shoot.

These, lacking Povlsen’s conscience and idealism, are happy to enjoy themselves in a bleak, empty wilderness, rather than in the verdant landscape of trees and flowers he wants to foster. I’m glad he’s doing this. Without capitalism, it would not be possible at all.

In financial terms, Povlsen is well ahead of the top native tycoon on the rich list, Glenn Gordon, chairman of the distillers William Grant & Sons. The total value of his production, including the brands Glenfiddich and Balvenie, is £3.2bn. Most makers of spirits today are multinational corporations, and William Grant is the biggest that remains in private hands.

Unfortunately, Gordon is atypical. The Rich List carries 300 names and, when it was first published in 1989, the Queen was number one, while many of those just below her were aristocrats. Today she does not figure at all in the top 20, and only a single Scottish nobleman, the Duke of Sutherland, makes it into that elite.

In fact, it contains more Arabs than dukes: Mohamed al-Fayed, on the list for his residence at Balnagown Castle in Easter Ross, and Mahdi al-Tajir, owner of Highland Spring, also features.

The Arabs illustrate one way Scotland has opened up to fresh forces of global capitalism during the last half-century. Of course we have always had an economy of a multinational character. A poor country could not improve itself in any other way.

But during earlier times it was Scots themselves who created that multinational character by discovering and exploiting the resources of distant continents. Now it is the people from distant continents who come to invest here. Indeed, only 15 of that top 20 are native Scots working in Scotland.

Striking also is how many of the 15 have got where they are because they represent new money. They belong not to the aristocracy or any other old elite but have won their own way up to the top through having good ideas, doing hard work and trouncing lesser rivals.

Sir Ian Wood, the fifth-richest Scot, emerged from a family-owned fishing business. On the back of the North Sea oil boom, he became one of the biggest global energy entrepreneurs with operations in 50 countries. He is also a generous philanthropist. The ninth-richest is Philip Day, owner of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group, which includes Peacocks, Jaeger, Jane Norman, Austin Reed, and other high street retailers.

At number 10 is Lady Philomena Clark, widow of Arnold Clark. Before his death in 2017 he had built up his car sales business from a single showroom in Glasgow to a nationwide chain.

TWELFTH comes Jim McColl, another self-made billionaire. He only came to grief when he turned from private engineering business to hobnob with the Scottish Government and promote its ill-conceived plans for building ferries on the River Clyde.

Fifteenth are Brian Souter and his sister, Ann Gloag, who founded the Stagecoach Group of bus and rail operators. Seventeenth is Sir Tom Hunter, who has expanded from sportswear retail into a wide range of other businesses.

I have dwelt on some detail, and I could go on. But I hope I have said enough to show that the wealthy Scots of the 21st century are not merely bloated plutocrats and ruthless exploiters of hereditary privilege. They can also be honest and hard-working folk, who started from nothing but their own merits. Sometimes these pay off for the entrepreneur, sometimes not.

The difference still does not mean successful capitalists are morally dubious.

Let me compare my argument with one from an esteemed fellow columnist, Kevin McKenna. I pick at random out of his fertile archive an article published on November 8, 2017: “This [UK] is a gangster state which punishes the innocent and the honest and rewards the greed, avarice and gluttony of the ruling elites. Will this ever reach a point when the rest of us will rise up and overcome this wickedness?”

My answer is no. So long as we can contemplate the deeds of Vladimir Putin in Russia or of the Saudi royal family in Arabia or of various despots in Latin America, it surely goes a bit far to dub ours a gangster state.

After all, our rulers rule because we vote them in and they change more often than those in countries with a history of revolution. True, there are different majorities in the four UK nations, but a remedy for that is work in progress.

I don’t suppose Scots abhor wickedness less than other peoples. Yet we deal with it in ways short of resorting to public violence.

We have, for example, equality before the law and equality of political rights, all exactly the same for the ruling elite as for any ordinary citizen.

Whether this equality should extend into the economic sphere, with every one of us enjoying equal wages or equal wealth, is a subject of constant public discussion. So far, the advocates of equality have failed to convince a majority of us that this is the right way to go.

Altogether a rich list is a good thing to have, in Scotland and in other countries. It shows us, through concrete examples of real people’s lives, that equality is not the sole social value we should worry about.

The best societies, all to be found in the world of modern capitalism, attach just as much importance to personal freedom and human diversity.