Voting for a new Britain: Connery in last-reel bid to save SNP Connery flies in to try and save SNP

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The Independent Online
ONE SMALL ray of sunshine pierced the gloomy political skies over the Scottish National Party's headquarters: the long-awaited arrival of Sean Connery. With the SNP lagging 20 points behind Labour in polls, campaign managers were pinning hopes for a revival on their most famous backer.

But before turning his mind to a big set-piece appearance at a rally on Monday and a party political broadcast, the former Bond star had other business. His latest film, Entrapment, is out in the US and he entertained American film journalists at the fancy Witchery restaurant in Edinburgh last night. His schedule was further complicated by a crew from the American 60 Minutes programme who are making a documentary about him. They accompanied him around the streets where he was once a milkman and slotted in the political angle by interviewing the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, who must have been happy to inject a little glamour into an otherwise desperate campaign.

Connery is staying with his wife, Micheline, in the five-star Caledonian Hotel, where the American film corps is also billeted. Leaving the hotel yesterday, he was asked when he was joining the SNP campaign. He replied: "I never left." Asked what he thought of Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland, Connery said: "What team does he play for?"

Connery's presence provided the SNP's best hope of persuading Scots to vote, as its last broadcast entreated, with their hearts. Previous interventions by him had remarkable effects: a 1991 broadcast was followed by a seven- point rise in ratings.His support has a down side, though: he is the SNP's biggest donor, giving pounds 40,000 a year, and it has caused controversy.

Even after registering to vote in London the actor, who lives abroad but who is said to be looking for a home in Scotland, was dubbed "The member for the Bahamas". A Labour spokesman, asked about the Connery effect, said: "It is going to be difficult for someone who is not resident in the UK and who can only spend a certain number of days here without being liable for tax to tell hard-working Scots to pay more."

Labour refuses to display complacency but only a miracle can put the SNP ahead in polls. But that will not stop the nationalists hoping for on. Connery's presence will remind Scots they can compete with the best in the world, they say, while Labour asks them to be content with what they have. "He is the living embodiment of the fact that we don't have to buy into the parochial underachieving, happy-with-what-we've-got Labour vision of Scotland," a party worker said.

Whatever Labour may say in the heat of an election, it will continue to court Connery afterwards. His promise to establish a film studio in Scotland could generate valuable jobs. He has met Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. And, whether or not he can influence the result, Scottish politicians expect to see more of Connery.

"I can't just play golf, do nothing else and then play gin rummy in the afternoon. I need more than that. I'm caught by what's happening in Scotland. I'm caught by the timing of it all ... I'm now in my 69th year and have an opportunity to do something really worthwhile and interesting there," he said in a recent interview.