Oh yesh, he's the Great Pretender

Today the Scots go to the polls. But what will become of their most famous son once his SNP job is done?

In The Man Who Would Be King, John Huston's adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's story about two soldiers of fortune in mid-Victorian Afghanistan, Sean Connery plays the eponymous dreamer, Daniel Dravot. He and his buddy, Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine), narrowly avoid being killed by local tribesmen when the masonic pendant Dravot wears is taken for a sign of divinity. Elevated to the throne, worshipped as a demigod, festooned with regalia, installed with law-giving powers, he basks in adventitious glory. Peachy pleads with him not to let it go to his head, reminds him that he's only human, begs him to collar the gold and escape. But the more he remonstrates, the more serene, kingly and ex cathedra becomes Dravot. Though only pretending to be a god, he feels himself turning into one.

Watching Sean Connery's recent flirtations with Scotland, the SNP, the Scottish newspapers and his own amour propre, you wonder how much he buys his own triumphal image, both in his native land and beyond it. For if ever a man approached the condition of royalty without benefit of aquamarine haemoglobin, it is he. "His status is now more than that of megastar. Somewhere along the line he has become an icon," wrote Magnus Linklater in The Times. The Press alternate between calling him "The World's Most Famous Scotsman" and "The Greatest Living Scotsman" as if the terms were interchangeable.

As an actor, he long ago transcended acting; once he stopped being James Bond, he became simply Sean Connery being virile at a screen near you. Advertisements for the 1974 film Ransom carried the legend "Connery Won't Pay...". As I write, his new movie Entrapment, partly filmed in Scotland with Catherine Zeta Jones, is at the top of the US box office, despite poor reviews. He has become unassailable, critic-proof.

Courtliness and violence strive for the upper hand in all his performances. In The Untouchables (for which he won his only Oscar), he played a seen- it-all Irish cop, upstaging Kevin Costner and his besuited enforcers with genial charm. Playing Harrison Ford's father in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, he made you believe he might have taught the Great Action Hero everything he knew. He radiates intelligent truculence, two-fisted wisdom, flashing-eyed combativeness, old-sea-dog bloody-mindedness (as in The Hunt for Red October when, playing a Russian submarine commander, he delivered the much-imitated line, "Gentlemen, we shail into hishtory"). He was the perfect knight in First Knight and Highlander, the perfect monk in The Name of the Rose. No matter how lousy his material, Connery strode through it demanding attention and respect - a modern-day, Scottish John Wayne.

And his private life seemed to mirror this natural authority. He was straight-talking, given to punching members of the press and ticking off obstreperous youth. His manliness shaded into full-on sexism when he suggested that there was nothing wrong with slapping women; but his audience even forgave him that.

And though he's been a tax exile for 20 years, in Marbella and later the Bahamas, Scottish people, by and large, forgave him for being an absentee patriot. He was their guy, their ex-milkman, their "Big Tam" from Fountainbridge, a global success story whose vast income was once threatened by a 98 per cent tax bill - and which money-wise Scot would not leg it to the Spanish coast or the Caribbean to conserve his money?

He seemed to love his home. Connery supported the Scottish Nationalists 20 years ago, giving rousing, a-nation-once-again speeches when the notion of an independent Scottish assembly seemed like dreamland. He spent a million quid from his Diamonds Are Forever fee to set up the Scottish International Education Trust in 1971, to help young go-getters from poor backgrounds like himself - he grew up in an Edinburgh tenement, the son of a lorry driver and charlady, and left school at 13.

In 1993, the Usher Hall in Edinburgh was packed out when he was given the freedom of the City. He made a short, gracious speech, and essayed a little dance on the stage. "Good on you, Tam!," yelled a voice from the gallery and the noble hall exploded in delight.

You could forgive him, therefore, for believing that he could be king. When he arrived in Edinburgh last week to lend his support to Alex Salmond and the struggling SNP, more than a few Scots wondered: might he stop being the actor-as-politician and become a real politician? The Scottish Tourist Board report that Connery is the only human being whom all visitors can instantly identify as a Scot. Was it time the Scots identified him as their natural statesman, their new Braveheart, their leader, just as Ronald Reagan graduated from the silver screen to the presidential office?

Sadly, he displays no desire to shail into Scottish political hishtory. Connery insists he is no politician, "and I have no intention of being one", he said last week. Commentators agree this is probably just as well. "I was watching him before the speech," one journalist told me, "and he was as nervous as a kitten." The SNP bosses were irked by his chronic failure to say the words "Vote Scottish Nationalist", rather than just "Vote". He seemed determined to stay aloof from party politics, recommending simple nationalism, hoping the winner of the election would be Scotland. In his testy response to his "abuse" at the hands of the Scottish papers, he sounded more like a man defending his image than sketching a political future.

So what will happen now between Scotland and her favourite son? Connery promises that he is now looking for a house in Scotland, where he will live for three months of the year. He will play more rounds of golf at Royal St Andrews. But his work for the nation will be as an unconscious figurehead, embodying certain Caledonian characteristics: hard work, financial shrewdness, quickness of temper, ingrained chauvinism, gruff patriotism, distrust of the media, an occasional clip round the ear of the young, a balled-fisted directness, a refusal to get too big for his Hollywood boots.

In a career lasting over four decades, when the image of the Scot has shifted from the White Heather Club to John ("We're all dooomed") Laurie in Dad's Army to the Bay City Rollers, right up to the supine junkies of Trainspotting, Connery has remained true to an alternative Scottishness - uncompromising, unsentimental and never forgetful of the past. To a people in need of a passionate rallying-call to independence, his very existence is worth a hundred Bravehearts.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor