The world’s favorite Scot, the Scot with a license to kill … and recently voted the U.K.’s Sexiest Pensioner, Sean Connery, 75, is renowned for his ardent support of the Scottish National Party and the movement to create an independent Scottish state.
In England, Connery’s political activism has become as much a part of his persona as the 007 character he last played in 1983. But there are a couple of wee flies in the ointment: One, he lives in neither the Highlands nor the Lowlands, but in the Bonnie Bahamas; and, two, Scots back home have heard it all before. And Scots don’t confuse acting ability with political acumen.
In a nutshell, Scotland has had its own Parliament since 1997, but make no mistake about it, the non-Scots of Great Britain consider Scotland a bit of windblown heather just up the motorway, the northern end of the island known as England. Scottish Parliament has responsibility primarily for education, health and prisons within its own borders — just about as much autonomy as Orange County, Calif.
Understandably, many independent and ambitious Scots chaff under the yoke of the Queen’s Parliament at Westminster. The Scottish National Party’s goal is full independence — membership in the United Nations, the European Union and all. In other words, a country named Scotland with, by the way, a lot of North Sea oil.
Connery not only bears the title of Knight Bachelor bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000, which entitles him to be called Sir Sean, but also the more valuable title of Tax Exile, granted him by British tax collectors some 20 years ago.
This designation does not carry the stigma that a tax evader might incur in America, it’s just the way super-rich Brits have always avoided the merciless top tax brackets. “You spent all but 90 days outside our homeland? You don’t owe us a cent, mate, and good on ye.”
“Throughout his life, Sir Sean Connery has been an ardent supporter of Scotland,” reads the Web site SeanConnery.com. “… His commitment to Scotland has never wavered … Politics in the United Kingdom has more intrigue than a James Bond plot … Sir Sean campaigned hard for the yes vote during the Scottish referendum (1997) that created a new Scottish Parliament … Scotland will be independent in his lifetime.”
“All I ask is equal treatment for Scotland, and we haven’t had that for 300 years,” Connery said in an interview. “For the first 100 years after union, Scotland went into decline. It is still run by Westminster. Scotland is just seen as great for shooting, golf and tugging your forelock.”
Connery has put his money where his mouth is. He has contributed up to £50,000 ($94,000) a year to the SNP, a significant amount for the cash-strapped local party. His contributions hit a snag a few years ago when the laws changed and Connery was prevented from making political donations because he was not a U.K. voter (Connery had a flat in London but had not registered to vote).
It was reported on Guardian Unlimited that Connery said he has paid about $6.5 million in tax since 1977, despite living abroad. “I am an easy target because of my political opinions, but I defy anyone in Scotland to find one detail where I knowingly ever did anything that was to the detriment of Scotland. It gets up my nose.”
It is undeniable that outside the United Kingdom the celebrity Sean Connery is the most persuasive voice for Scottish independence among the movers and shakers of the world that may not have otherwise heard of the SNP or the movement.
But if public opinion is reflected by Scottish newspapers and their political editors, Connery, like Thatcher and Blair, may garner more respect for his political stance in foreign lands than in his own. At best, in Scotland he may be preaching to the converted.
“In terms of Scottish voters, they don’t pay too much attention to what Sean says politically,” says Paul Hutcheon, the Scottish political editor of the Sunday Herald. “They admired his acting skills, and they recognize that he’s been in a number of good films, but there is a tendency for people to roll their eyes when he enters the political arena.”
Hutcheon continues: “He’s said the same things politically for decades now. It’s not as if he surprises anyone. His political views don’t really have much impact on elections or Scots.”
“Our view as a newspaper,” says Ian Pope, assistant news editor of the Daily Record, “would be clearly skeptical of Sir Sean’s support of Scottish nationalism. The fact that he is able to espouse independence for Scotland while living (abroad) hasn’t escaped many of the readers of our paper.
“That is a criticism which is often leveled at him. His response to that might be, ‘The second Scotland does gain her independence, I’ll be on the first flight home.’ He has perhaps a chocolate box (picture postcard) view of Scotland.”
Dave King, a political editor at the Daily Record, adds, “there is a growing resentment here. ‘Why should we listen to somebody who’s spent most of their adult life living elsewhere. He’s never lived in this country for more than 90 days for the last 20 years.”
“He is a strong believer in Scottish independence, and he’s argued the case many times,” says Manish MacDonell, political editor of the Scotsman. “He feels very very strongly about it. (But he) is living as a tax exile, and perhaps, when he backs a party, that takes away a bit of the message.
“There is a certain amount of backlash, but it doesn’t go as far as negating his influence. He’s admired for being the most famous Scotsman in the world, but I think his intervention in Scottish politics would carry more weight with more people if he lived here. And there is a certain tendency in Scotland to have ‘a bit of a go’ at success.”
“The Scottish National Party has really traded on their links with him,” Pope sums up. “During the general election last year, they had prerecorded phone messages from Connery. You would get a phone call as you were sitting tucking in to your tea. It was his voice: Nobody can do it the way he does it. ‘Hi, it’s Sean Connery. Don’t hang up. It really is me. Please vote SNP.’ “