Born at Greenock of mixed Scottish and Irish descent, Scott trained at the Belfast College of Art, 1928-31, and from 1931 to 1934 at the Academy Schools, London, where he won prizes for both painting and sculpture. His early painting consisted mainly of figural work under the influence of Cézanne and Bonnard. After an interval during the war years he concentrated in the latter 1940s chiefly on still life, favouring kitchen objects. Examples from this period are: Mackerel on a Plate (Tate Gal., 1951-2); Frying Pan and Eggs (National Gal. of New South Wales, 1949); The Frying Pan (Arts Council of Great Britain, 1946). He himself said of his painting at this time: 'I picked up from the tradition of painting in France that I felt most kinship with - the still life tradition of Chardin and Braque, leading to a certain kind of abstraction which comes directly from that tradition.' His work continued to be mainly based on still life with increasing abstraction, though a new conception of space entered in from c. 1951, until the late 1950s, when he was painting pure abstractions with titles such as Blue Painting (Albright-Knox Art Gal., Buffalo, 1960); White and Sand Colour (Gal. des 20 Jahrhunderts, Berlin, 1960); Nearing Circles (Edinburgh Weavers, Carlisle, 1961). Although these pictures were composed of circles, squares, etc., they were not geometrically exact but bounded by sensitive, painterly lines. He remained within the field of the painterly and did not graduate towards the machine-like type of abstraction.
Scott was elected a member of the London Group in 1949, was invited in 1951 by the Arts Council to do a large painting for the Festival of Britain and in 1958 had a retrospective exhibition at the Venice Biennale. He was awarded First Prize in the British Painting section of the 2nd John Moores Exhibition at Liverpool and the International Critics' Purchase Prize at the 6th Sao Paulo Bienale. He was Ford Foundation artist in residence in Berlin, 1963-5. In 1955 he wrote: 'I should like to combine a sensual eroticism with a starkness which will be instinctive and uncontrived.' In the late 1960s and 1970s his paintings became more austere. He juxtaposed abstract shapes based remotely on frying pans, saucepans, plates, jugs, etc. against a white or flat monochrome background. A retrospective exhibition of his paintings, drawings and gouaches was given at the Tate Gallery in 1972 and a smaller exhibition was given by Gimpel Fils in Zurich and London in 1974. He was created C.B.E. in 1966.