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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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.