Sean Connery feared tax bill if he campaigned in devolution vote

SEAN Connery needed to be persuaded by Tony Blair to campaign in Scotland for devolution because he feared it might cost him money, UK government memos have revealed.

Despite wanting to help the cause, the exiled James Bond star was worried that if he spent too much time in the UK during the 1997 referendum it could land him with a tax bill.

He also complained to New Labour fixer Peter Mandelson that “Arabs” didn’t have to put up with the same unfair rules as he did.

At the time, Connery had houses in both the the tax haven of the Bahamas and Marbella in Spain.

“It would be very disappointing if Sean felt unable to help on the devolution front because of a disproportionate effect on his pocket,” wrote Mandelson, then the minister without portfolio.

He suggested the Prime Minister should intervene and talk to the actor about tax breaks for the film industry.

Blair then spoke personally to Connery actor and “pressed” him on campaigning for a double yes vote in the Scottish Parliament referendum, and Connery agreed.

The first yes vote for a Parliament, the second to give it tax powers.

The UK Government’s efforts to recruit Connery, who was knighted in 2000, are revealed in Cabinet Office papers from 1997 unsealed today by the National Archives.

They include hundreds of files from the first months of Blair’s New Labour Government as it drew up prospectuses on devolution in Scotland and Wales and organised referendums.

On June 4, 1997, Mandelson wrote to Blair’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell about getting the most famous living Scotsman to give his support during the autumn referendum.

In a memo titled “Sean Connery: Devolution and Tax”, he wrote: “I have now spoken to Sean Connery several times over the last ten days.

“He is very keen to promote a ‘yes’ vote on the referendum on devolution in Scotland. 

“But he is concerned that his scope to help will be badly constrained by the residency rules which mean that he is liable for tax if he spends more than 90 days in the UK in any year.”

On the memo, an unknown joker highlighted the word ‘yes’ and scribbled : “Shurely ‘Yesh’.”

Mandelson went on : “He sees this as iniquitous to him personally, and claims that other individuals and indeed ethnic groups (he mentioned the ‘Arabs’) are not subject to the same strictures. 

“He also pointed out that the rules in the UK constrained the ability of this country to attract the big movie makers to shoot here. 

“It is certainly true that in the last few years we have lost out on some big pictures to Ireland in particular because of their more sympathetic tax arrangements.

“Sean says that he went over these issues with you at some length in Los Angeles earlier this year. I don’t know if you managed to take this forward in any respect.

“Certainly it would be very disappointing if Sean felt unable to help on the next devolution front because of a disproportionate effect on his pocket.

“Perhaps the Prime Minister might want to hold a meeting with Sean when he is next in London, or alternatively give him a call in Marbella or Los Angeles at some point in the near future, to assure him both that he is keen to have Sean’s help on the referendum and that we will be looking at the tax position, certainly with regard to the tax industry.”

On July 28, Powell informed Mandelson that Blair had spoken to Connery and it was possible Chancellor Gordon Brown might also get involved.

Powell wrote: “The Prime Minister pressed Sean Connery on campaigning for a double yes in Scotland. 

“He said he was ready to do so and would be in Scotland in the few days before the vote. He is waiting for concrete proposals from us on what we want him him to do. Gordon may well be following this up as well.”

Connery eventually campaigned in Scotland just a few days before the vote on September 11, 1997, when Scots voted 74 to 26 per cent for a parliament and 63-37 for giving it tax powers.

Although an independence supporter, Connery backed devolution after the SNP led by his friend Alex Salmond did so an an interim measure on the way to full-blown separation.

Connery died aged 90 in October last year at his Bahamas home.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992