Scottish independence: Celebrity deathmatch

JK Rowling casting a pro-union light over Edinburgh Castle
JK Rowling casting a pro-union light over Edinburgh Castle
Ian Dunt By

Songwriters, generally speaking, don't sing odes to the status quo. This is why all the coolest celebrities support the 'Yes' campaign in the Scottish independence referendum.

That's not to say that Better Together has no celebrity supporters. Quite the opposite. Two hundred of them signed a letter to the Scottish people last week, urging them to stay in the union. With figures like Mick Jagger and Judi Dench on side they're arguably more famous than the 'Yes' campaign's celebrity supporters. But they are a lot less cool. If one were voting on the basis of fashion, it would not be a difficult decision.

On the 'No' side there is David Suchet, creaking relic of Agatha Christie TV mysteries, Bruce Forsyth, who was described by one online commentator as "nearly dead", and Simon Cowell, the human equivalent of a sneer.

On the independence side, things liven up a little. There is, for starters, every single musician and artist north of the border. After that, the celebs have a bit more edge to them. Folk singer and political firebrand Billy Bragg, the recently-passed away Iain Banks and comics guru Mark Millar lead the pack.


So who wins? The famous or the cool? We'll pitch the top three celebs on either side against each other and see who comes out top.

Andy McNab vs Sean Connery

Andy McNab was one of the signatories to the 200-strong letter calling on Scots to stay in the UK. Sean Connery is a long time supporter of independence, although admittedly that does not extent so far as actually living there.

McNab should have this one in the bag. It's a battle between a real SAS sergeant and an imaginary spy. McNab can actually kill you. Not imaginary kill you. Actually kill you. He was doing covert ops in the Far East while Connery was making Highlander 2: The Quickening.

But Connery was James Bond. Not just a James Bond - the James Bond. The original man who men wanted to be and women wanted to be with. In the 60s, when Britain was cool, he was the coolest thing about it. Connery wins, hands down, regardless of the fact his licence to kill is fictional and he doesn't actually live in Scotland. In any competition between Sean Connery and someone else, Sean Connery wins.

JK Rowling vs Irvine Welsh

Or Harry Potter vs Mark Renton: an appaling childhood-breaking image if ever there was one.

It's hard to imagine two more different authors, offering two more different accounts of Britain. Rowling deals in sentimental views of public schools and a warm, magical idea of childhood. Welsh deals in dark, nasty, stabby things - the broken people of Edinburgh, a universe away from the tourist Disneyland of the city, screwing over mate and stranger alike. Both authors' work led to movies which redefined the British film industry.

Welsh has been hugely enthused by the debate on independence. "People are talking about their futures as if they actually have them," he wrote in the Standard. "It's that exhilarating, intoxicating and occasionally exasperating phenomenon at work: welcome back participatory democracy."

Rowling took time to evaluate the arguments and then came out with an opinion and a donation – to the Better Together campaign. Her reward was an extraordinary attack by so-called cybernats, an angry collection of online independence supporters. "I know that there is a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence and I suspect, notwithstanding the fact that I've lived in Scotland for 21 years and plan to remain here for the rest of my life, that they might judge me 'insufficiently Scottish' to have a valid view," she wrote on her blog. "When people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste."

Who wins? The artistic credibility and darkness of Welsh, or the world-conquering fantasy juggernaut of Rowling? Rowling of course. Welsh is good - very good - but no writer on earth can stand up against the literary phenomenon of JK Rowling. She didn't just get a generation of kids reading. Her every contribution is warm, thoughtful and generous, always on the side of the underdog and willing on people to greater things. There's no contest.

Stephen Hawkins vs Frankie Boyle

We tried to find a scientist to stand up to Stephen Hawkins but it was difficult. The author of A Brief History of Time is such a massive figure that by the time he signed a letter urging Scots to vote 'No' he pretty much closed the deal. Those scientists who did remain were mostly 'No' voters anyway, primarily because they fear research collaboration could be damaged by a 'Yes' vote.

So instead of looking for scientists who bucked the trend, we opted for Frankie Boyle, who has nothing to do with science whatsoever. He is the savage sage of the comedy circuit, a man not unafraid to speak his mind and with one of the most poisonous tongues in the developed world. His view on independence? "It's an aye from me, man."

On the one hand, you have a man with an unprecedented understanding of theoretical cosmology making reasoned arguments on the constitutional future of the country. On the other you have a man with a beard which could form a habitat for average-sized mammals making offensive diatribes about anything he lays eyes on. It's not a difficult choice. Boyle wins. Who needs black holes and a many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics when you've got a massive ginger beard?

Final score

Independence: 2 Better Together: 1

It was never really in doubt. Supporters of the union have done their best and wheeled out a collection of haggard old celebs to urge Scotland to stay together. But in any referendum, the artists will always opt for change. And once the artists go one way, the celebrity battle is already won.

In the battle of celebs, at least, Alex Salmond has the upper hand.

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