Dear Prof Grayling,

I read your column in the Herald with interest. I think it’s important that people who are based in the rest of the UK engage in the independence debate, and so I am glad that you are doing so.

I do, however, think much of what you say is claptrap. The idea that “Scotland’s history on the world stage began with Union in 1707” is absurd. To talk about the Scots as “the North British” makes you sound like little more than a petty Victorian imperialist who begrudges an accidental arrival in the 21st Century. I think that your accusation that the SNP are a party of resentment of the small for the bigger is a deep misunderstanding of a party which is always careful to express its solidarity with English people.

I think that your claim that the Scottish government wants the normal benefits of being in the EU (free movement of people, for example) and so doesn’t want real independence is pretty laughable. Ireland has free movement of people with the UK. You can travel across Western Europe without brandishing a passport.

I find your implication that smaller countries might lead to more wars absurd, and that it ignores the role that big countries like Britain have played in recent years in invading poorer countries around the world. That you celebrate our historic empire as a place to exercise “North British talents”, but then say that you fear that Europe will return to the bloodbath of the 17th century makes it sound like you think that while the history of Europeans killing each other is awful, the history of Europeans murdering black and brown people for their land was some sort of great romantic adventure.

I think your willingness to evoke 17th century statelets when discussing the independence of a country which is, in population, bigger than most of the independently or autonomously run areas of the earth shows an impressive willingness to ignore basic global geography.

I find the fact that you spend so much time harking back to history, then accuse the SNP of being backwards looking is entertaining.

I find concerning the implication of the fact that you ask if you should get a vote because of some Scottish blood running through your veins. This question comes with worrying hints of ethnonationalism. If these things are decided on the basis of your blood, not where you live, would you also ask if the daughter of Pakistani immigrants ought to have the right to vote removed from her? That’s the logical conclusion. Hinting that there ought to be an ethnic rather than geographical enfranchisement system and then accusing others of petty nationalism seems to me absurd.

I think the fact that you segue from talking about the irrelevance of Bruce to dismissing the SNP argument without engaging with one comment from an SNP leader shows a profoundly shallow understanding of a debate which has largely revolved around how powers could be better used with independence rather than any historically deterministic romantic nationalism.

I find hilarious the fact that you can refer to the “the ghastly political romanticism of the last two centuries” in a piece laden with language about the prosperity and greatness of Britain.

But of course I will disagree with you. And the fact that you, unlike many commentators in England, have at least bothered to express your opinion is a good thing. And people should disagree, and be infuriated by each others’ comments: otherwise, what kind of democracy would we live in?

However, I would like to ask one thing. When entering this debate, please at least do the basic research.

For example, you say “Scotland is a net financial gainer from being part of the UK”. In fact Scotland is a net fiscal contributor to the UK. Not the other way around. Perhaps you mean something different by being a “financial gainer” but if so, you probably need to make that clear, and you probably need to explain why you think this.

Second, you imply that the Scottish government wants to shirk responsibility for various of the elements of a new state, including taking on a share of British debt. In fact, the SNP are proposing to take on a fair portion of the UK debt. They are only threatening to refuse to pay if the Scots are refused access to shared assets.

So, in future, feel more than free to tell us your opinions, and feel free to do so in a way which winds me up. But please, at least get our basic facts right.

Yours sincerely,


ps How’s your £54,000 per student private university going?

Adam Ramsay

About Adam Ramsay

Adam is Co-Editor of Open Democracy UK and a green activist based in Edinburgh. He co-founded Bright Green in 2010.