New Year celebrations in Edinburgh. Photo: Getty
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Sean Connery on Scottish independence: “Simply put – there is no more creative an act than creating a new nation”

The 2014 referendum is an opportunity too good to miss.

Having been on this journey to independence for more than 50 years, it seems to me that the arguments have been kicked about like a bladder on a beach.

But as the 18 September approaches and, one by one, the scare stories are burst, a new sense of opportunity and hope for the future is now in sight. Scotland has an opportunity to make a step change.

More than anything else, culture defines a country. It provides international visibility and stimulates global interest more than a nation’s politics, business or economy ever can.

So, with our colourful history, strong identity, deep-rooted traditions, a commitment to artistic innovation and diverse and beautiful landscapes, Scotland is truly blessed.

All these attributes mean that Scotland is one of the most familiar countries on earth. As a Scot who has lived much of his life furth of Scotland, I am always amazed by people’s knowledge of and affection for the nation.

I have no doubt that this is due to our reconvened Scottish parliament. It seems to me that devolution has encouraged a new expression of cultural values, fostering a new pride in our national heritage and providing a support framework for everything from the Gaelic language to cutting-edge architecture. Attending the opening of the parliament in my home city was one of the proudest days of my life. 

I believe Scotland can and will go further. A Yes vote in September will capture the attention of the world. That inevitably means there will be a renewed focus on our culture as well as our new politics, presenting us with an unparalleled opportunity to promote our heritage and creative excellence.

The powers of independence will allow Scotland to develop and enrich its culture as well as marketing it more effectively.

We can build on the success of events such as Homecoming, winter festivals like Edinburgh’s phenomenally successful Hogmanay, this year’s sporting spectacles such as the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, as well as the other diverse festivals around Scotland.

Culture and creativity are a force for public good and with the enhanced resources offered by independence, Scotland will compete with the best.

No one will be surprised to learn that I am particularly excited by the possibilities a Yes vote offers for the Scottish film industry, with new inward investment encouraged and the international promotion of Scotland as an iconic location. A bigger and more confident film and broadcast sector will mean an inflow of resources and new jobs and training.

Having researched the numbers, it is clear that there are huge economic benefits to be gained as well as cultural ones. Scotland’s creative industries generated £2.8bn for the country’s economy in 2011. The historic environment brought in over £2bn, supporting 60,000 jobs. These are impressive numbers. With independence, they can be more impressive still.

I fully respect that the choice facing Scotland on 18 September is a matter for the people who choose to work and live there – that is only right and proper. But as a Scot and as someone with a lifelong love for both Scotland and the arts, I believe the opportunity of independence is too good to miss.

Simply put – there is no more creative an act than creating a new nation.

 

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.