Hugh Reilly: Celebrities not to be taken seriously

David Bowie and Elaine C Smith both got involved in the Scottish independence debate. Picture: Robert Perry
David Bowie and Elaine C Smith both got involved in the Scottish independence debate. Picture: Robert Perry
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Bowie’s intervention puts credibility of high-profile backers under spotlight, writes Hugh Reilly

LIVING abroad as a social security exile, I’m unlikely to vote in the forthcoming referendum; to exercise my democratic right I’d need to pay a high-season EasyJet fare to Glasgow.

Admittedly William Wallace, a tall man who requested extra legroom on the executioner’s slab, made a bigger sacrifice to have his voice heard. As he lay spread-eagled waiting for his body to be diced and despatched in doggie bags to all corners of the realm, it must have crossed his mind why his rebellion had failed to capture the Scottish public’s imagination. While he had spoken positively about Scotland’s future as a sovereign nation, his London-loving aristocratic rivals had organised a negative campaign, claiming independence would lead to a run on the groat.

At least Braveheart only endured physical torture. Today, Scots must endeavour to persevere as they suffer the mental torment of hearing celebrities spout their views on the independence debate. At last week’s Brit Awards, using the delightful pixie Kate Moss as his proxy, David Bowie said: “Scotland – stay with us.”

His belief in the concept of Better Together is not new. While many of his musical contemporaries such as Roger Waters and Brian Eno have refused to tour Israel until the illegal occupation ends, Bowie performed in Tel Aviv. Maybe he should have asked Ms Moss to say: “Palestine – stay with us.”

Quite why Bowie decided to give us his unsolicited views of the question of independence is unknown. Perhaps he is worried that a Yes vote would mean no more Jock troops for perfidious Albion to expend in future wars of aggression. It says everything you need to know about Alistair Darling and Johann Lamont that they were ch-ch-chuffed to bits at the intervention of a multi-millionaire who fled Britain for Switzerland in 1976 to avoid the Labour Party’s tax regime. Labour’s, ahem, leftists have also clearly forgiven him for saying that “Britain could benefit from a fascist leader”.

Presently, the former Aladdin Sane resides in New York – purely for artistic reasons, one would imagine. Truly, over the past four decades, the superstar’s time spent in the UK has been on a par with that of Elvis’s smoke break on the tarmac at Prestwick.

To be fair, the unionist camp enjoys the support of celebrities who do pay their taxes here. Sir Alex Ferguson donated some of his largesse to the Better Together group, albeit before he and hundreds of other wealthy investors reportedly faced losing more than £100 million after HM Revenues and Customs cracked down on Mickey Mouse tax relief claims related to the funding of Disney films. Actor and singer John Barrowman is a staunch pro-unionist. Participating in an interactive online Burns Night organised by Better Together, he astutely declared Alex Salmond “the pudding of our chieftain race”.

I’m sure the First Minister grinned wryly on being mocked by a performer who once had to apologise for exposing himself during a live Radio 1 broadcast.

Impoverished residents of peripheral housing estates in Glasgow must have listened intently to the pearls of wisdom falling from the lips of pro-unionist Emma Thompson, speaking via satellite from her $4m house in Los Angeles, as she warned against creating barriers to divide Britain. Fellow millionaire, author JK Rowling, believes that independence “right now” is not good for Scotland. Perhaps she thinks the pro-unionist camp should be rebranded as “Better Together for a Tiny Bit Longer”.

Of course, celebrity idiocy is not confined to one side of the debate. The independence movement can count on the support of Sir Sean Connery, whose visits to his beloved country are SAS-like: in and out before anyone notices. Actor Martin Compston, star of non-Oscar nominated films such Sweet Sixteen, Red Road, Filth and the straight-to-DVD Paul Ferris bio-pic, The Wee Man, is pro-independence. There is heavy irony that someone who has made a living out of portraying Scotland as a dark, dismal, crime-ridden, post-apocalyptic part of the world should champion its bid for liberty.

Elaine C Smith, best known for her “Mary Doll” role in Glasgow’s version of Downton Abbey, Rab C Nesbitt, has nailed her separatist colours to the mast. Last year, at the Scottish Independence rally, she bawled movingly of her desire to see Alba take total control of its affairs.

It would be comforting to believe that celebrity endorsement possesses the integrity of an e-mail from a nice man in Nigeria desperate to deposit thousands into one’s bank account on receiving one’s pesky account details. However, there is evidence that voters actually listen to the political musings of the Beautiful People. For example, were it not for Oprah Winfrey’s seal of approval, Barack Obama would not be the president of the USA. Political scientists have estimated that her early and enthusiastic endorsement was worth one million votes in the Democratic primary where he defeated Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, Obama’s decision to decline Lindsay Lohan’s offer of public support probably added a couple of thousand votes more to his eventual tally. (Donald Trump’s belief that anyone running for presidential office required his anointing hands proved to be a tad hubristic.)

Politicians should be wary of celebrity endorsement, given the fickleness of many artists. For many years, the Conservatives boasted of Sir Tim Rice’s backing, the ditty-man responsible for Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar. A prominent Eurosceptic, he recently made a donation to Ukip, according to the Telegraph. Brian Cox, aka Bob Servant, has also changed horses midstream. A lifelong Labour stalwart, he has happily lent his name to the Yes campaign.

To be fair, the controversy over celebrity approval has given the electorate some respite from the scaremongering tactics of the Just Say Naw brigade. Each week, in tales of the very much expected, Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson compete at FMQs to produce the most frightening scenario that will befall Scotland should its hoi polloi dare vote to be a nation again. The prolific output of horror stories from the Sisters Grim makes Stephen King seem something of a reluctant scribbler.

I’ll give the last word to arguably Scotland’s most famous celebrity, Billy Connolly. “I think the Scots will come to a good conclusion in the referendum, they’ll get what they deserve.”