Connery's pounds 57,600 for SNP

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The Independent Online
THE ACTOR Sean Connery contributes about pounds 4,800 a month - pounds 57,600 in a full year - to the Scottish National Party, it disclosed yesterday.

The revelation may go some way to explaining why the Scottish-born actor did not receive a knighthood when the Labour government came to power. This was despite a long-standing recommendation from the Tories that he should be honoured for his services to cinema and to Scotland. Reigniting the row, the Scottish National Party yesterday claimed there was "discrimination" by political parties against opponents.

The SNP vice-convener for fund-raising, George Reid, disclosed Connery's level of fundraising to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, taking place in Edinburgh. Headed by Lord Neill, the committee is taking evidence in Scotland for two days as part of its study into the funding of political parties.

Mr Reid said: "He pays this party about pounds 4,800 a month. This is in the accounts made available to this committee. He is quite open about it."

In a written submission, the SNP said: "Members of the committee will be aware of the disgraceful prejudice shown by New Labour against the actor and SNP supporter Sean Connery with regard to an honour. We believe that there is a real risk that similar prejudice would be applied to persons who were identified as SNP financial supporters. Legislation on this matter must also be effective from any proposed start date for publication."

In oral evidence to the committee, the SNP raised the hypothetical case of a lottery jackpot winner who stipulated anonymity in collecting his prize - but also wanted to give a substantial sum to the party.

Mr Reid told the committee that although Connery had been nominated for a knighthood by the outgoing Conservative government, the proposal had been "declined" after he played a major role in last year's referendum campaign.

"Clearly, it gives rise to concerns in the SNP about discrimination. People should be able to contribute openly to political parties but should not be discriminated against for doing so."

He said the fears of discrimination arose from the fact that large parts of Scotland were in the "grip" of one party, and had been for some time.

The Scottish Labour Party attacked the SNP in its evidence to the committee which said mandatory disclosure by parties of their audited accounts and the source and size of large donations should be a "first step" in the direction of reform. Labour said the SNP had been too secretive.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats called for state funding to be extended to all elections and plebiscites.

A UK limit of pounds 15m spending on European, general, Scottish and local elections should apply, with Scottish local limits being proportionately less.

There should be a pounds 50,000 upper limit of any donation from any one source and "transparency" of all donations over pounds 1,000 should apply, Scottish Liberal Democrat treasurer Dennis Sullivan told the committee. "Financial muscle has distorted the political debate hugely in favour of two political parties for most of the century."