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Sandy Murray reports
"The law has been attacked by Sir Sean Connery"
 real 56k

Scottish Office Minister Brian Wilson
"It's not about Sean Connery"
 real 28k

Sunday, 17 December, 2000, 16:59 GMT
Connery in party funding row
Sir Sean with wife Micheline after being knighted in July
Sir Sean, after being knighted in July
Sir Sean Connery has clashed with the government over new laws which prevent him giving money to the Scottish National Party.

The film star has strongly criticised the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, drawn up after concerns about money buying influence following big donations from business people.

But a government minister says Sir Sean's role in the issue "trivialises" an important democratic reform.

I'm a proud Scot, a freeman of my native Edinburgh and a UK citizen but this law treats me as a foreigner

Sir Sean Connery
Under the new law exiles who want to fund mainland British parties must have a British address and also be registered to vote here.

Sir Sean, a resident of the Bahamas who also spends part of each year in Spain, has donated 4,800 a month to SNP coffers.

In the past, the 70-year-old has claimed that Labour tried to block his knighthood in revenge for him supporting the nationalists.

Writing in a Sunday newspaper, he said: "New Labour - new stitch-up.

"That's my opinion of the new rules on party funding, rushed through Westminster a couple of weeks ago.

'Need for balance'

"I'm a proud Scot, a freeman of my native Edinburgh and a UK citizen but this law treats me as a foreigner.

"In any democracy there has to be balance. In Scotland that means the SNP need the funding to do their job.

"The original report from Lord Neill on cleaning up the rules on donating to parties didn't affect me.

"It was about getting rid of cash for questions and banning mystery men from buying up political parties.

Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson: New law 'not about Sir Sean'
"Well, there's no mystery about my support for the SNP. It has certainly never brought me any advantage nor would I wish it to."

However, parties in Northern Ireland can continue to receive funding from all over the world under an exemption which Tories have branded a government concession to "the men of violence".

Sir Sean said it was "downright crazy" he could fund any Northern Ireland party but not the SNP, "which has always followed a peaceful path".

But Scotland Office Minister Brian Wilson told BBC Radio 5Live: "This legislation is about stopping people who cannot vote in Britain contributing to British election campaigns.

"It's not about Sean Connery, it's not about his relatively modest cheque each month to the SNP."

Everybody understands that Northern Ireland is different apart, apparently, from Sean Connery and his mates in the SNP

Brian Wilson
The law was based on recommendations in the Neill Report which responded to the "public scandal" of large-scale overseas funding of the Tory party in the 1990s, Mr Wilson said.

"To talk about this in terms of Sean Connery is just to trivialise something which is a very important democratic reform."

There was a "perfectly clear and rational reason" for the different treatment of Northern Ireland, he went on.

Parties there had to be eligible for funding from the Irish Republic but it was impossible to create a separate legal definition.

It would also breach the Good Friday Agreement and other existing legislation, Mr Wilson said.

"Everybody understands that Northern Ireland is different apart, apparently, from Sean Connery and his mates in the SNP."

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond: 'Discriminatory law'
It was "crazy" and "disturbing" for the SNP to draw comparisons between themselves and the situation in Northern Ireland, said the minister.

He added that it was "well within Sean Connery's gift" to register to vote in Britain.

But the actor's stance has been supported by former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who said the legislation was discriminatory against Scots and "absolutely absurd".

"Sean Connery is not a foreigner, he's the world's most famous Scot, he's a UK citizen," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

Sir Sean was knighted by the Queen in July at the Palace of Holyrood house in Edinburgh.

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See also:

03 Dec 00 | Scotland
SNP anger at 007 'discrimination'
05 Jul 00 | Scotland
Sir Sean's pride at knighthood
18 Aug 99 | Scotland
Connery 'stabbed in the back'
27 Jul 99 | UK Politics
SNP could face Connery cash cut
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