A tartan Bond that goes beyond politics?
THERE was thick, warm summer rain falling outside the converted sports hall at Edinburgh's Pleasance on Saturday, 30 June, 2007 when Sir Sean Connery and his wife Micheline arrived for the gala performance of the hit play Black Watch.
They took their seats – the best in the hall – next to Moira Salmond, the First Minister's wife, while everybody waited for her husband to arrive.
The First Minister never made it for the play, leaving the seat next to Moira the only empty one in the house. He had spent the entire evening co- ordinating the response to the Glasgow Airport terrorist attacks which had happened that afternoon.
Mr Salmond did turn up for the drinks reception afterwards, though, and announced that he would now follow Black Watch to New York, so he could see the play and stay with his old friend Sir Sean.
For both men, Black Watch pressed all the right buttons: it was an overtly Scottish play, it was political and it was both new and ground-breaking. The two men also share a love of golf, of football and, of course, of Scottish nationalism.
A senior Scottish Government source said: "They have similar interests and a similar outlook to life. They are both men's men, people with a bit of verve and pizzazz about them and they like that about each other.
"They do seem to just hit it off."
This friendship between the world's most famous Scotsman and Scotland's First Minister was brought into focus by the disclosure, yesterday, of the letters Mr Salmond has sent to Sir Sean over the last year, recommending music to listen to and, on one occasion, sending on a signed copy of the independence white paper.
This relationship would be interesting, but hardly of seismic political importance – were it not for the referendum on independence, which is due to take place next year.
There is now no doubt that the Connery-Salmond relationship will not only be at the heart of that referendum campaign, but it might well determine the success of the independence cause.
Sir Sean has been an SNP donor for many years, regularly putting up to 5,000 a month into party coffers as a sign of his faith in the party. But his financial contributions represent just a tiny fraction of his worth to the independence movement.
As the best-known Scotsman in the world, Sir Sean's views carry weight far beyond the normal sphere of politics.
If he campaigns in the lead-up to next year's referendum, he will reach voters far outside the grasp of normal politicians.
That is why he is so valuable to the SNP and why his axis with Mr Salmond is so important – it is unlikely that the actor would make so much effort for anyone else.
For example, during the brief period when John Swinney was SNP leader, from 2000 to 2004, Sir Sean's party activity dropped off. There were also reports of his discontent with the Swinney leadership, reports which may have helped drive Mr Swinney away from the leadership and hasten the return of Mr Salmond.
Indeed, it does appear that Sir Sean's relationship with Mr Salmond is more important, both to him and to the independence movement, than his relationship to the SNP itself.
If we do get a referendum on independence next year, party managers will be hoping for on-the-ground campaign appearances, voice-overs and, of course, money. They would probably get Sir Sean to front the whole thing if they could. And they know that if anybody is going to get Sir Sean to do it all, it is Mr Salmond.
Kevin Pringle, Mr Salmond's press spokesman, said the relationship between the two men was strong, even though contact was infrequent.
The First Minister has never been to Sir Sean's homes, either in the Bahamas or in Spain, but the two do meet up every time the actor comes to Scotland.
He said: "From the time Alex became leader they have been in touch regularly. Since the advent of the internet, Sir Sean makes sure he keeps up with events in Scotland – he reads The Scotsman, the Herald and the BBC online – and talks to Alex about events."
Mr Pringle said the two talk each month or so and correspond with letters and e-mails too. They have played golf together, but do not do so regularly although Sir Sean will always make the effort if he believes it will help Scotland.
Mr Pringle said: "His support for the SNP is in the context of him supporting anything that promotes Scotland; that's why he took part in the DVD for Glasgow's bid for the Commonwealth Games."
Murray Grigor, the writer and film-maker who co-wrote Sir Sean's memoirs, which were published last year, said: "They share the same political over-view; they have done since Winnie Ewing's by-election in 1967."
Mr Grigor remembered Mr Salmond coming to Sir Sean and Mr Grigor's Book Festival event in Edinburgh last year and sitting in the front row.
"They always did get on well together, they do share the same objectives," Mr Grigor said.
He added: "Sean is really the 'president over the water' as far as the SNP are concerned."
There is no doubt that, if Mr Salmond had to choose somebody to be the first titular head of an independent Scotland, a figurehead, rather than a political leader, he would probably pick his old friend, Sir Sean – particularly as Mr Salmond liked to be seen as the 'king over the water' before his return from London to the leadership in 2004.
It is this mutual admiration which is at the heart of their relationship. Sir Sean thinks Mr Salmond is the best leader, not just of the SNP, but of the country, and wants him to lead Scotland to independence. Mr Salmond thinks Sir Sean is the country's best ambassador in the world.
If the First Minister gets the chance to run a referendum campaign on independence next year, Sir Sean will be involved, both because that will be the "once in a generation" chance all Nationalists have been waiting for and also because Mr Salmond will be running it.
But the international celebrity has shown with his more ambivalent attitude to other senior SNP figures in the past that he can be fickle when it comes to helping the SNP.
For that reason, if for no other, party activists will be hoping that nothing happens to disrupt the Salmond– Connery friendship before the referendum is called.
A knight is a long time in politics
SIR Sean Connery has been a Nationalist since Winnie Ewing's by-election victory in Hamilton in 1967. The actor penned a piece for Ms Ewing's campaign newsletter and has kept his party loyalty ever since.
Alex Salmond became leader of the SNP in 1990 and met Sir Sean at the actor's Freedom of the City of Edinburgh celebrations in 1991, and it was not long before Mr Salmond had persuaded the actor to become more involved in SNP politics, convincing him to do a voice-over for an SNP party political broadcast in September 1991.
The relationship between the two continued with infrequent but warm meetings over the next few years, but Sir Sean's involvement in Nationalist politics was relaunched in 1997 at a lunch in London with Mr Salmond, Donald Dewar, then Scottish secretary, and Peter Mandelson, then the chief New Labour strategist.
It was at that lunch that Sir Sean agreed to take part in the 1997 devolution referendum campaign, appearing on a boat in the Forth with Gordon Brown.
Sir Sean's links with the SNP grew stronger as his relationship with Labour deteriorated.
This was accelerated by the decision of senior Labour figures, primarily Mr Dewar and one of his junior ministers, Sam Galbraith, to block the actor's knighthood, apparently because of his Nationalist sympathies.
"That really soured the relationship," an SNP source said yesterday.
He did get his knighthood – which he asked to be awarded in Scotland rather than in London – but his relationship with Labour continued to bump along the bottom, culminating in a well-publicised spat with the then First Minister, Jack McConnell, in New York.
The actor was an infrequent electioneer, appearing once on the campaign trail in 1999 and lending his voice to broadcasts and recorded telephone calls later. But he continued his financial contributions and met Mr Salmond every time he came to Scotland.
His most recent donation, of 30,000, arrived in SNP coffers before the 2007 election and more is expected in the run-up to future campaigns.
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