The late Hollywood actor Sean Connery was happy to support Westminster plans for Scottish devolution – but only if it did not cost him money, previously classified documents suggest.
The James Bond star, who was known for his soft Scottish lilt when playing the British intelligence officer, was said to have been happy to heed Tony Blair’s 1997 call to back the “yes” vote, granting greater powers to Scotland.
But he was concerned that any campaigning in person would see him at the mercy of residency rules, meaning he would have to pay tax if he stayed more than 90 days in the UK during the year – something it was suggested he felt certain ethnic minorities did not have to do.
Scottish-born Connery, who spent much of his time in the US, Spain and the Bahamas, was described by Cabinet minister Peter Mandelson as “very keen” to support the PM, due to “several” conversations between himself and the actor in May and June 1997.
In a memo to Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, Mandelson wrote: “But he (Connery) is concerned that his scope to help will be badly constrained by the residency rules.
“He sees this as iniquitous to him personally, and claims that certain other individuals and indeed ethnic groups (he mentioned the ‘Arabs’) are not subject to the same strictures.”
He added: “Certainly, it would be very disappointing if Sean felt unable to help on the devolution front because of a disproportionate effect on his pocket.”
Mandelson suggested Blair contact the actor, or meet him when the pair were next in London at the same time.
The memo, released by the National Archives in Kew, acknowledged Connery’s agreement to support the “yes” campaign – and was annotated, playfully, with the words “shurely ‘yesh’” in reference to Connery’s famous and much-impersonated burr.
Mandelson also described how Connery pointed out that Hollywood films were being shot in countries such as Ireland, where tax arrangements were “more sympathetic”.
Connery would go on to be a prominent supporter of independence, although did not live in Scotland.
He said of the referendum in 2014: “I fully respect the choice facing Scotland in September is a matter for the people who choose to work and live there – that’s only right.
“But as a Scot with a lifelong love of Scotland and the arts, I believe the opportunity of independence is too good to miss.”
Connery, later Sir Sean, was known for playing 007 in the likes of Goldfinger and Dr No.
He died in 2020 aged 90.