Scottish Independence and the Cult of Celebrity
At the 2014 Brit Awards, fashion model Kate Moss gave out an acceptance speech on behalf of David Bowie. In it she added the statement “Scotland, stay with us.” Whether Bowie actually asked Moss to say this or not is open to debate; the 67 year old singer/songwriter has neither confirmed not denied those were his words. If anything, he has stayed silent on the matter since. If he did indeed ask Kate Moss to say that, then David Bowie is indeed entitled to his opinion. It is an opinion we in the Yes campaign need not worry too much about, yet at the same time, we should not be too complacent about it, and the same follows for a number of other celebrities.
It is a sad fact that society in the UK has a massive cult of celebrity; which is not in a little part driven by the media. There are people who will happily sit in front of the TV and register votes for celebrities in so-called ‘reality’ shows, and wannabes on talent shows. Yet ask these same people to get off their fat lazy arses once every few years to waddle along to their local school to put a cross in a box, and it suddenly becomes a different matter. What is worse is that due to this cult of celebrity, there are a number of people will hang on every word their “heroes” come out with, as if being famous suddenly means they have anything meaningful to say, or any real insight into many aspects of life, including politics.
This is a fact which is not lost on the No campaign in the debate on Scottish independence. The media, which is hugely behind the No campaign and deeply opposed to Scottish independence, have for quite a while now been trawling out ‘big names’ who are allegedly equally opposed to an independent Scotland. So there was no mistake that when Kate Moss made that statement, apparently on David Bowie’s behalf, at the Brit Awards, the media jumped on it, and tried to blow it up as big as possible. Yet Bowie was not the first in a long list, nor was he the most recent; just as the most recent shall by no means be the last before the referendum on 18 September 2014.
That these celebrities voice is of no relevance to the independence debate is easily highlighted when one looks more carefully at their own lives. If David Bowie is indeed opposed to independence, then it is a bit rich for a man living in New York City to state “Scotland, stay with us.” The most humorous response I saw to that online was a friend posting that Bowie was all put us all up in his NYC apartment.
Former Manchester United FC manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has been not only been very vocal against independence, he donated money to the official “No” campaign, Better Together. In a clearly orchestrated insult, Ferguson donated £501, £1 more than the £500 maximum donations proposed by the First Minister of the Scottish Parliament, and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond. Yet, just who is Sir Alex Ferguson? A formal footballer and football manager. What great insights can he give us to the pros and cons of independence? Does he somehow imagine that it would make international relations worse? If so, then for a man who bought footballers from all over the world, he is either deluded, or trying to delude others. The simple fact is that under independence the football business will continue to be the same as it has been for decades now – crooked through and through. I for one would be more impressed if Sir Alex did something positive to bring down turnstile prices for football matches, to make sport more accessible to more people, instead of fleecing poor shmucks for every penny they have. But then Sir Alex Ferguson, just like Bowie, lives outside Scotland and will not get a vote in the referendum. Therefore his views, just like Bowie’s, are an irrelevance to the debate.
Possibly the most vocal Scot against independence is comedian Billy Connolly. Connolly is a fine comedian without a doubt, who in the time-served tradition of Scots comedians, does not get on the stage and tell jokes, which is not funny; instead he talks about real life, and that is hilarious. Billy Connolly’s standpoint is the one which all nationalism is right wing, divisive, and based in bigotry. This is quite a sad stance to take when one considers that Yes Scotland and most others in favour of independence have continually stated that we are not anti-English, and the goal of Scottish independence is one firmly based in ‘civic nationalism’, where Scotland and England can live side by side, with mutual respect for each other, offering and accepting help where needed and possible, but with neither country interfering in the government of the other. Better Together actually wanted Billy Connolly to front up their campaign. He turned them down however, saying that he is distancing himself from the whole debate and he will be in New Zealand on the day of the referendum. This is not surprising, as since becoming famous Connolly has rarely lived in his native Scotland, and had he not been in New Zealand, the chances are he would have been somewhere else out of the country. His views then are, again, an irrelevance.
Another who shares Billy Connolly’s views on independence is actress Emma Thompson, who has stated “Why insist on building a new border between human beings in an ever-shrinking world where we are still struggling to live alongside each other?” Well, firstly, nobody is talking of building a border between anyone, and if Ms Thompson were a little better read on the independence debate, she would fully realise that. Besides which, this idea that you cannot have nation states in a shrinking world is an absurdity. If Emma Thompson fully believes that, then perhaps she would like to nail her colours to the mast as an internationalist; as opposed to British nationalism as she is to Scottish independence. And then perhaps she would like to inform us as to just what sort of one-world government she prefers, and from where. So what exactly qualifies Emma Thompson to speak on Scottish independence? Well, the English actress was the voice of the character “Elinor” in the Disney Pixar movie ‘Brave’, oh, and she was married in Scotland. To be fair, she reportedly does live in Scotland “half the year”, so if she is registered to vote, then she is indeed entitled to her opinion, no matter how ill-educated that is. That is “if” she is registered to vote and will be here to vote on 18 September 2014. If the answer to either or both of these is no, then her views are, again, irrelevant.
In 2009, Susan Boyle from Blackburn, West Lothian, won the TV show “Britain’s Got Talent” with her stunning singing ability. Ms Boyle has since come out firmly in support of Better Together, stating that she “I am a proud, patriotic Scot, passionate about my heritage and my country. But I am not a nationalist.” Her rationale behind supporting the union is that she cared for her mother on benefits; “Welfare helps many of the most vulnerable in society. I don’t believe you should break what’s working.” This is quite sad when one considers that many people are now suffering under benefit cutbacks within the Union and that an independent Scotland would be more than able to give support to the most vulnerable in society. Perhaps “SuBo”, as the media cringingely refer to her, should consider that it was the Scottish Parliament who made provision for free healthcare for the elderly, while Westminster has steadfastly refused to do so. Susan Boyle has also made comments concerning Scottish economics and EU membership. And what qualifications does the singer, now worth in the region of £20 million, have to comment upon such things? Absolutely none. Okay, she is entitled to her opinion, but given her views and those of Alex Salmond, an economist before he entered politics, I know who I am going to listen to first. So again, her views are an irrelevance.
In 2014, the No campaign have been gearing up their celebrity support, which smacks more of desperation more than anything else. Hot on the heels of David Bowie came the gay and crossdressing comedian Eddie Izzard, television presenter Anne Diamond, and TV talent show judge, Simon Cowell. Each give highly spurious reasons, all do not live in Scotland, and none of them will have a vote in the referendum. Their views are therefore of absolutely no relevance to the independence debate or the people of Scotland.
As it is, the No campaign’s attempts to woo voters by using celebrities seems to not only be failing but to have backfired on them. If anything, support for independence has grown in recent months, not shrunk. So should we Scots Nats be worried? Of course we should, for the simple reason that due to the cult of celebrity, there are people who will listen to these “cults” (this is not a typo) and may well vote accordingly, which can only make our job that little bit harder. We need to concentrate on getting the positive messages across on where the celebrities are going wrong and why their views are irrelevant.
And that has to come from us, the people. One of the proudest things we can state about the Yes campaign is that it is a grass-roots campaign. Start relying on celebrities such as Sean Connery, and we fall into exactly the same trap as the No campaign of quoting famous people who do not live here, who will not get a vote, and whose views are thus wholly irrelevant to the debate.
There is also something else we need to be careful of, and that is personal attacks upon celebrities by Scots Nats. In the wake of the Bowie statement, Facebook was flooded by comments about his musical ability and lifestyle which were churlish, childish and downright absurd. Likewise, when Eddie Izzard made his comments, I saw a few posts which one can only describe as homophobic, and I have also seen attacks on the mental abilities of Susan Boyle, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Such comments will not only do nothing to further the cause of the Yes campaign, they can only serve to alienate people and turn them firmly against voting for Scottish independence.
No matter how much we may disagree with the views of any celebrity, we must not lose sight of the fact that that is their opinion, which they are fully entitled to, just as we are entitled to ours. To use an analogy, actor Jeremy Irons has made ridiculous views inferring that same sex marriage could lead to incest. As much as I find Irons’ views odious to say the least, that is his opinion, which he is entitled to and does not for one moment reflect on his ability as one of the finest actors living today. So it is, we can appreciate people for their art, while at the same time disagreeing with their views.
I have admired David Bowie as a musician and songwriter since an early age, and have seen him constantly and successfully reinvent himself over and over in the space of four decades, whilst a great many others have fallen by the wayside. I love the comedy of both Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard, I appreciate Emma Thompson as a fine actress and love to hear Susan Boyle singing. Their views on politics, or anything else, are an irrelevance to me, just as they should be to all. The one thing I will not do, and neither should anyone else, is launch into a tirade of personal abuse against them.
Concentrate on the politics, on where they are wrong in their statements, and we will win more hearts and minds that way. Indeed, we may even end up winning some of the celebrities over to the Yes camp.