Voting For A New Britain: Connery loses his cool with media

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AS 007 he made saving the world look simple. But recast as the Saviour of the Scots Nats, Sean Connery struggled to maintain the famous James Bond cool at an SNP rally in Edinburgh yesterday.

Perhaps saving the world was never this tough. With 10 days to go to elections to the new Scottish Parliament, polls show the Scottish National Party's vote plummeting. The pressure is on "Scotland's most famous living Scot", with "Scotland forever" tattooed on his 68-year-old arm, who is the beleaguered SNP's ace card.

That explains why the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, who shared the stage with Mr Connery, slipped him the occasional glance of adoration - or desperation - and why the Big Screen's sexiest pensioner looked so peculiarly ill at ease performing before an audience of just 300. Mr Connery seemed to find the 45-minute wait for his lines excruciating.

Nerves were betrayed in the sweet he sucked, regular and unnecessary clearing of the throat and hands that definitely trembled. But once he took centre stage the old gravel-voiced charm surfaced. And, when he turned on the media, so was the menace of so many screen roles.

He was reading his speech, he said, because he was unable to trust his emotions. "I have never witnessed," the actor explained, "such shameful abuse by the Scottish media ... and I am angry." The crowd had already given Mr Connery a rapturous welcome. But his attack on the press brought the wildest applause.

Last week, Mr Connery, in Edinburgh with a posse of American TV and film executives to promote his new film and the dream of a Scottish film industry, found himself in a rabid, aggressive pose on the front of Scotland's dominant tabloid, the Daily Record. The headline suggested Mr Connery, lampooned regularly as the Member for the Bahamas because his exile there means he does not qualify for a vote, had just seen the latest opinion polls. Mr Connery says the picture was a week old and that he was set up.

Yesterday a stony-faced Mr Connery warned that media bias threatened the democracy of the Holyrood Parliament, just as "control freaks" had deflated the enthusiasm of the 1997 devolution vote with "fear and intimidation".

He was undoubtedly referring to the negative election campaign run by Labour, a new Connery enemy since the party reportedly denied him a knighthood last year. Earlier, Mr Salmond reminded the rally of how Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Chancellor Gordon Brown had "scrambled to have their picture taken with Sean" in the run-up to the devolution vote.

Both Labour and the SNP have courted Mr Connery. Yet there is no conclusive evidence that endorsement, even by 007, cuts with the public. In an entirely unscientific and narrow (four men on the street) poll conducted by The Independent yesterday, 100 per cent of those questioned said Mr Connery's appearance at the SNP rally would not affect their vote.

"He's been out of the country for decades," said one. "How does he know what's good for me?" Another suggested that nationalist sentiment seemed to increase with the number of years in exile, and the distance the exile lived from home. The Bahamas, he pointed out, was a long way away, and Mr Connery had been there a very long time.

Even for some party insiders the emphasis on Mr Connery only exposes the flimsiness of the SNP's election campaign. But the delegates at least seemed to be buoyed by 007's appearance. When party veteran Winnie Ewing was kissed by Mr Connery there were a few gasps. Would Winnie ever wash again?

Planet Holyrood,

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