I WAS asked to talk to Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 this week. We had spoken the week before about Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement so I was a little surprised to be back on air again quite so soon.

I was even more surprised about the subject I was asked to speak about, which was the Parthenon Sculptures, or the Elgin Marbles as the English establishment likes to call them.

I am not an expert on this subject. I said that to the producer when invited to comment, but it was his suggestion that I was, in his opinion, the right person to respond to their other guest, who I admit I had never heard of before.

When we went live on air and I heard what he had to say I began to understand the producer’s logic. Prof Anthony Glees, from the private University of Buckingham, made three claims about the Parthenon sculptures.

The first was that they are legally Britain’s, so we can keep them. That claim is dubious.

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In 1816 the House of Commons was persuaded that documentation existed that showed that the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire that then occupied Greece had granted Lord Elgin the right to take the marbles. Slightly unfortunately, no one has ever been able to find that evidence ever again, and the Ottoman Empire was good at record keeping. The legal claim is dubious in that case, to say the least.

The second claim was that the marbles are part of British heritage. Apparently, they are more "ours" than they are Greece’s. It is not hare to see how ludicrous that claim is.

The third claim was that we have protected the marbles and can continue to do so. The claim was two-fold. The first was that the Greeks had suffered wars, invasions and coups and we had not, so they were safe here. It seems Prof Glees forgot that the Nazis blitzed London. The second was that we are just better at preserving things than the Greeks.  This ignores the widely acknowledged fact that the British Museum has damaged the sculptures with the various restoration efforts they have tried on them.

The claims Prof Glees made were, then, nonsense. Worse, and the point I made, which was quite strongly supported by Jeremy Vine, was that all of this stunk of colonialism. The assumed English imperial privilege on display staggered me. Prof Glees denied that colonialism in any way informed his views, but I could think of nothing else that did.

The entitlement of the elite

So, what, you might ask, has any of this to do with Scotland? My answer is that it seems to me that the two cases are very similar. The same English elite that claims a legal entitlement to ownership of the Parthenon sculptures also claim that they have an entitlement to rule Scotland on the basis of an ancient treaty, making it "ours", as they would define themselves.

What is more, that same elite would undoubtedly claim that they can undertake this task much better than anyone in Scotland, just as it was suggested that the British Museum can look after the Parthenon sculptures so much better than the Greeks can, contrary to any evidence.

There is then much in common, except when it comes to public opinion. A range of opinion polls covering the UK as a whole have, in recent years, suggested that a majority of people in the country think that the British Museum should return the Parthenon sculptures. They recognise the rightful claim of Greece to these artefacts.

The National:

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On the other hand, opinion polls concerning the control of Scotland by England suggest that the majority of people in the UK do not think Scotland should be independent - even though the claim for being so is as watertight as that Greece has for the return of the Parthenon sculptures.

That contrast does, however, suggest what those wanting independence have to do. The job is to persuade people in England – rather than their politicians – that Scotland has the right to choose. Unless that happens, the argument with the politicians will never be won. That will be no small task, but whoever said winning independence would be easy?

Now the question is, how to do that? When the independence debate is so inward-looking, that is a big question that needs an answer.