There is only one man who can deliver Scottish independence
It is not Alex Salmond whom Unionists should fear. Yes, he is by all accounts a canny operator, and his victory last week was an astonishing achievement. Like the Rev’d Dr Ian Paisley – who came out of nowhere to found a church and a political party which led ultimately to him becoming Northern Ireland’s first minister – Alex Salmond has move from the political peripheries to being the most powerful Scottish politician since, err... Gordon Brown. But he, of course, thanks to devolution, never wielded much power north of Hadrian’s Wall (though he certainly marshalled his fellow Scots in Westminster to subdue the English).
For a more powerful Scot who actually ruled Scotland, you need to go back to Ramsay MacDonald (Prime Minister 1924 & 1929-35). Or, if you consider him too weak and ineffectual to merit the title of ruler, you need to go back a century to Arthur James Balfour (Prime Minister 1902-05). And for a powerful Scot who ruled Scotland as an independent political entity, all the way back to Queen Anne (the last Stuart, reigning 1702-14), under whom the Kingdom of Scotland remained legally separate, with its own parliament, judiciary, and laws.
The Scottish Parliament was abolished during her reign in 1707, when the Acts of Union were passed (both parliaments enacted legislation, which led to the Treaty of Union which established the United Kingdom). Since then, an important element in Scottish national identity has been the quest for home rule or complete independence. And an important element in that battle has been Sean Connery.
This is not an example of your average superficial celebrity support. No-one was really persuaded one way or another by D-listers Eddie Izzard or Kriss Akabusi battling it out over AV: both were irrelevant to the debate and the outcome. Joanna Lumley – probably a B-lister – fared better over the Gurkhas, as did Dame Judi Dench – an undoubted A-lister – over the Government’s plan to sell off England's forests. But these celeb-cause associations are ephemeral.
Sir Sean Connery has dreamed of Scottish independence since he was delivering milk to Edinburgh’s Georgian terraces. He has supported the cause all of his politically-aware life. He has donated millions to the cause and spoken at SNP conferences. And his celebrity status is stratospheric: he is an A*-lister.
The Prime Minister has said that Westminster will not impede the SNP’s ultimate objective to hold a referendum on independence for Scotland. He is wise not to do so, for the Scottish Act of Union is now subject once again to the will of the Scottish people. His Grace reflected last week that a referendum ought to be UK-wide, since England would also be leaving the Union. But he has reconsidered this view. Two sovereign parliaments under a joint crown entered into a treaty: no democratic and sovereign parliament may bind its successors.
One of the most familiar and stirring justifications offered for secession appeals to the right of self-determination for peoples, which is the normative nationalist principle. But it is the least plausible of justifications. If every ‘people’ is entitled to its own political, cultural or ethnic boundaries, we encounter a plethora of theoretical difficulties, not least of which is how ‘people’ is defined. Do all peoples within a state have the right to their own state? Cultural pluralism has become a distinguishing feature of the British state since 1707. This offers limitless political fragmentation. Scotland’s history is inseparable from that of England: both have been mutually infused culturally and linguistically, and the United Kingdom has been a powerful vehicle of assimilation. Scottish independence will lead to instability, and economic autonomy will bankrupt her.
Perhaps Sir Sean is intent on rectifying past injustices. There has been a view since the Treaty of Union that Scotland was unjustly and unequally incorporated into the United Kingdom, despite being over-represented at Westminster. And further, that the Stone of Scone – the Stone of Destiny; the ancient Coronation Stone – was purloined by Edward I of England, despite James I (of England) & VI (of Scotland) choosing Westminster as his seat. The SNP narrative has consistently been one of re-appropriation: the return of stolen property to the legitimate owner.
It was John Major in 1996 who granted permission for the Coronation Stone to be returned to Scotland. For 300 years, it had symbolised to Unionists nothing less than the anointed foundation of the UK’s governmental authority. But its position in the Abbey, where it had rested for 700 years, has been a symbol of grievous subjugation to Scottish nationalists; a sign of English oppression and superiority. In reality, of course, it symbolised the uniting of the Kingdom under one Monarch, who swears to uphold the liberties of all British subjects and govern them according to their customs and laws. Lying beneath the Coronation Chair in Westminster, it has been the embodiment of the covenant between the Queen-in-Parliament and her subjects, the anointed foundation by which the sovereignty and government of the United Kingdom was upheld.
This is not insignificant myth or futile legend, for we are in the era of the politics of feeling; an age in which A*-list celebrities are able to usurp the scurvy politicians and seize the crown for themselves. Scottish independence is dependent upon the consistent assertion of a distinct national identity, and that is dependent upon symbolism which captures the imagination, appeals to the emotions and inspires. And some of the most powerful symbols in our culture are created and communicated in films via the cinema, and then through DVD via television. ‘Braveheart’ did not star Sir Sean Connery, but it might as well have done as far as Scottish national consciousness is concerned, for inspirationally they are synonymous. The Stone of Scone to many is nothing but a secular museum piece: to Scots it is charged with symbolic and emotional significance.
And so the forthcoming inevitable referendum on Scottish independence will pitch a Scottish cinema icon and global superstar against a Scottish media baron, for Rupert Murdoch (or his heirs and successors) is not likely to side with the SNP. Alex Salmond will once again be peripheral. And fear not them which can win an SNP majority, but are only able to deliver a referendum: but rather fear him which is able to deliver independence.