ANNIE Lennox, one of the most successful musicians in the world, has always refused to be drawn into the debate over independence in her native Scotland. Yesterday, however, in a massive boost for the SNP, she became the most high-profile convert to the cause for nearly 40 years.
The star, who is due to perform at Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday concert in London today, told The Scotsman that she now believed Scotland could set a global example for what a small country could do.
Lennox, who has sold 80 million records worldwide and won an Academy Award for her songwriting, said she wanted to see a modern, forward-thinking and environmentally friendly Scotland.
"In that way, if Scotland was to be independent, and it had that kind of vision, I would back it completely," she said.
Her public endorsement of independence represents a major fillip for a cause that has previously had to rely on the actor Sir Sean Connery as its only internationally known celebrity supporter.
But her backing of independence – even though it is conditional on Scotland becoming an ecologically sound, nuclear-free country – also shows how far she has moved politically.
In the past, the Aberdeen-born former Tourists and Eurythmics star kept out of debate on the future direction of the country, backing a referendum on independence but insisting that she did not know enough about it to get involved and that it was up to Scots to decide their future.
Now, though, Lennox has decided to speak out for the first time to give her support to at least the principle of independence, without necessarily backing the SNP's policy platform.
Speaking ahead of her appearance at this year's Festival of Politics at the Scottish Parliament, she said: "You know when the first idea of Scotland being independent came to people's ears, in the late 1960s early 1970s, and I was living in Scotland then, it seemed very eccentric at the time. You know, why? What do you need that for? Is not this some sort of very sentimental view where we are looking inwards rather than outwards?
"But, as time has gone on, I think I can see some benefits to Scotland in a certain kind of way."
She went on: "I wouldn't like to see Scotland missing out on the bigger picture, but at the same time I think Scotland has missed out on things as a country.
"I think Scotland could take a stand in a wonderful way, ecologically and morally and ethically. Scotland could stand for something in the way that Norway has done historically. We could say, this will be a country which is a nuclear-free zone and this will be a country which will tackle the issues like the depletion of the environment around the coastline, for example, and our fishing stocks are so depleted now we are going to have a no-take zone; this type of thing. I would love to see those things, the visionary things, in Scotland."
Asked whether she was open to the arguments over independence, she replied: "Oh, completely. There is an opportunity for something innovative and visionary. I can see that happening. Yes.
"Scotland could have some kind of new, ethical, visionary stance and it could take on some fresh ideas. That could be amazing, really amazing.
"If you think about the issues of the planet, it could be so sweetly represented in a small country like Scotland, in terms of the environment, in terms of trying to tackle issues of inner-city violence, of drug problems, these things.
"All the issues that contemporary society has today, Scotland could be a beautiful example of a way forward, if it was open and not too reactionary – just to say 'no we are not going to have genetically-modified crops, we are not going to have that' – I could see that as a blueprint for something."
Lennox, 53, has been active in international political movements for decades. When she was in the Eurythmics, the band backed Amnesty International and Greenpeace.
Later, she supported charities such as Children in Need and Hear the World, a campaign to spread awareness about deafness, as experienced by her late father, who had worked in Aberdeen's shipyards.
Now Lennox is campaigning on behalf of women in southern Africa who are affected by the HIV/Aids pandemic and has launched a music movement, Sing, to raise money for HIV/Aids education.
She told The Scotsman she did not plan on returning to Scotland to live but insisted Scotland was always with her. "I have always felt a little homeless. It's a strange thing. Although I have lived in London, I have never really considered London my home because it was always going to be a stopping-off point for me, and it has been too.
"I have lived a very peripatetic existence. I have always travelled and travelled and arrived back and then left. I see myself as a traveller. I don't see myself as someone who's too strongly identified with a national identity."
But she added: "I am certainly deeply identified with aspects of Scotland. I have never lost my accent and Scotland is with me every day because, in my mind, it comes into my head; there isn't a day it doesn't come in. But I suppose the Scotland that I left is a different one from what it is now."
The SNP spent much of the run-up to last year's Holyrood elections trying to woo the country's business community, aware that the backing of senior financiers and business leaders would help ease doubts about its ability to govern.
The party secured the endorsement of Sir George Mathewson, the former chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the money and public backing of Stagecoach millionaire Brian Souter and the entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer.
But while the Nationalists have been successful in securing business support, they have really had only Sir Sean Connery to promote their message on the international stage, until now.
Sir Sean was first identified as a Nationalist in 1969 and was on the long-list for the West Fife seat at that stage – but then it was realised that he was not a party member.
The former James Bond star's pro-independence leanings were well known through the 1970s and the 1980s, but it was not until 1991 that he actually got involved with the SNP, doing a voiceover for a party political broadcast.
That involvement deepened as Sir Sean started to use some of his own money to help fund the SNP, and he developed a close relationship with Alex Salmond, now First Minister, which has continued to this day.
However, the addition of someone as respected and well known in the music industry as Lennox, particularly as she has a track record of political involvement, will take the Nationalists' message to a much wider audience than before.
Connery by far the biggest name in list of Nationalists' celebrity supporters
THE SNP's most famous backer is the former James Bond star Sir Sean Connery, whose Nationalist sympathies have been well known for decades.
However, it was not until 1991 that he got actively involved with the SNP, recording a voiceover for a political broadcast.
Since then, he has donated about 50,000 to the party and developed a close relationship with Alex Salmond, the party's leader.
Other stars have turned to the SNP after losing faith with Labour. Robert Carlyle, the actor, made it clear last year that he was going to vote SNP – even though he did not believe in independence – because he had become disillusioned with Labour.
Elaine C Smith, the comedian and actor, moved to the SNP after years as a Labour supporter, while the Nationalists can also count on the support of one of the two Proclaimers (Charlie Reid now backs the Scottish Socialists, but brother Craig is still SNP).
Highland rockers Runrig were mostly SNP supporters and even provided the party with an MP, in the shape of bass player Pete Wishart. But Donnie Munro, the former lead singer, went the other way and became a Labour candidate.
The SNP has had some other recent converts in the arts world, including the Scots singer Sandi Thom, the artist Peter Howson and the Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh.