The thing about University Challenge is that Jeremy Paxman will ask a question and before you’ve had time to screw up your face and go “eh?” some Swotty McSwot has buzzed in and answered it. Questions like this one for example: which number is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in two different ways? Think about it. Answer at the end.

Here’s another question: will University Challenge be the same without Jeremy, Jezza, Paxo, the Paxinator, and other names he’s never been called? The long-running host has announced he’s stepping down and we are sad. We will miss his sarcastic eyebrow, his sceptical upper lip, the dismissive way he went phhtt. We liked it when he talked disdainful to us.

It's also fair to say that Paxman is one of the finest examples of a particular type of presenter that’s becoming rarer: highly educated and highly male. Call it a starter for ten but do you think the new host of University Challenge is likely to be a man like Jeremy, or likely to be a man? Do we always have to make things different? I grew up with intelligent middle-aged middle-class men on the telly telling me what’s what and I’m used to it. I like it.

I appreciate Paxman for personal reasons too. When he published his book on the British Empire, I talked to him about it and it turned out we were both General Gordon fan boys. But a conversation with Paxman also reveals the slightly misleading nature of his TV persona. I had assumed I’d get a question out of my mouth and he’d tell me not to be so bloody stupid. In fact, he turned out to be one of the easiest and most pleasant interviews I’ve ever done because, unlike some people, he doesn’t take what you say personally and expects you not to take what he says personally either. Again: I like that.

We also had some fun about Scotland. Paxman, you will remember, has been accused of being a Scotland-hater, mainly because he had a pop at Robert Burns and some ding-dongs with the likes of George Galloway which some said exposed his Anglo-arrogance. I asked Paxman about that and he said Scots are just easy to wind up. And he’s right. A lot of us are. And if this column is making you angry, you’ve probably proved my point.

It's fair to say as well that Paxman’s book on Empire, and other books like it, can teach us a lot about Scotland and the Scots. Paxman isn’t the first to point out that much of the British Empire had a Scottish accent and much of the brutality (and there was a lot) had Scottish fingerprints on it. Paxman was clear: nobody took to Empire with greater gusto than the Scots.

But Paxman thought the end of the Empire could also help explain why Scotland is where it is now. Look at the circumstances around the Act of Union, he said, and the dashing of Scottish imperialist ambitions at Darien, and it isn’t surprising there was a desire to throw in our lot with the English. Likewise, it isn’t surprising that once the Empire's gone, there's a sense among some Scots of it being time to weaken the links because the forces that led to the links in the first place are weaker. Empire and war make them stronger and we no longer have empire and war.

There will be some who disagree and think our current situation is more about English Tories than the British Empire but anyone who thinks long-ago doesn’t have anything to do with now needs to take another look at Scotland. It’s also good for us to have non-Scots – even (yikes!) Englishmen – giving their views on Scotland. Paxman told me what he thought with great force but great humour too. He’s not scared of opinions – his, mine, yours – and we shouldn’t be scared of other opinions either. I’m going to miss Paxman. I wonder if anyone like him will emerge on TV again?

Oh, and the answer is 1729.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.