THE road to it was closed by the weather last weekend but I would always recommend to visitors to my part of Scotland that they try to see the memorial to Sir David Stirling that stands on a hill top by the B824 to Doune.

Although the Daily Telegraph’s breathless story when it was unveiled in 2002 (“Hush-hush tribute to SAS founder”) was a little over-dramatic, Angela Conner’s statue to the brave artist-turned-airman whose Second World War ended as a POW in Colditz is still a well-kept secret.

I’m a bit ambivalent about Stirling, to be honest, whose derring-do and post-war opposition to racial discrimination in Africa has to be weighed against his involvement in the arms trade in the Gulf and anti-trade unionism, but the statue is terrific.

Connor is an interesting artist, much commissioned by the British establishment, who assisted Barbara Hepworth before making her own kinetic sculpture alongside figurative work that includes the statue of Laurence Olivier as Hamlet that stands on London’s South Bank. The Stirling statue is a classic one-and-a-half times life size in heroic pose, made really special by its perfect location near the Stirling family estate.

Such a perfect Venn diagram of craft, commissioning and countryside is very rare in contemporary statuary however, which is one of the reasons why I have no enthusiasm for Jo Swinson’s much-reported support for a statue of Margaret Thatcher (leaving aside her involvement in the arms trade and anti-trade unionism) – or indeed Nicola Sturgeon, as Swinson suggested by way of long-term career planning for sculptors. They hey-day of the statue was at least a century ago, and it populated public spaces like Glasgow’s George Square with edifices that few of the citizenry could now name. Public art is now a very different business altogether, and whatever your opinion of Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North, Andy Scott’s Kelpies, or Patricia Leighton’s Sawtooth Ramps (to name three with the benefit of superb locations), they are not statues memorialising individuals. Many recent attempts at that office have not gone at all well, from the ho-hum of Donald Dewar at the top of Buchanan Street to the downright risible post-Braveheart William Wallace erected at the National Monument on the Abbey Craig not so very far from the Stirling memorial.

Our relationship with statuary is entirely different in the 21st century. On the one hand the classicist sculptor Sandy Stoddart (whose early work on Glasgow’s Italian Centre is surely “public art” rather than statuary) is filling in gaps left by previous generations with monuments to James Clark Maxwell and David Hume in Scotland’s capital, while the most popular response to the empty “fourth plinth” in London’s Trafalgar Square has been the deeply ironic phallic thumbs-up of David Shrigley’s Really Good. On the other, the most memorable photographs of statues (an interesting artistic sub-genre in itself) of the past 50 years or more is of them being toppled by the people. Kick Over the Statues, sang Socialist Workers Party-supporting punk-soul band The Redskins in the mid-1980s: “At the end of an era, the first thing to go/Are the heads of our leaders, kicked down the road.” They referenced President Somoza of Nicaragua, but so has been the fate of Lenin in Bucharest, Hoxha in Tirana, Gaddafi in Tripoli, and Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

Celebrating influential figures with sculpted icons is a precarious business that should be best be consigned to the thinking of an earlier patrician era, which is surely why women might choose to have nothing to do with it. If there are fewer statues to women that is because the strides being made by them are happening in a post-statue era, where lasting memorials are in the changes being wrought for everyone. How you feel that has gone for Thatcher is up to you, and as far as Sturgeon is concerned, I’d suggest that, as Zhou Enlai said of the French Revolution, it is too early to tell.

As for Sir David Stirling, I think he’d be delighted to know that – even if they don’t know it – more people know his lineage not from Conner’s statue of him but from the vibrant acting performances of his nephew’s daughter, Rachael Stirling.