British celebrities pick sides in Scottish referendum

LONDON (AFP) - Scotland's independence debate has gripped the world of show business, pitting heavyweights such as Paul McCartney and Sean Connery on opposite sides, but many remain tight-lipped over fears of repercussions.

On Aug 7, 200 celebrities signed their names to an open letter pleading the Scots to remain in the union. These included former Beatle McCartney, rocker Mick Jagger, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and Hollywood stars such as Helena Bonham-Carter, Michael Douglas and Bond actress Judi Dench.

Harry Potter author J K Rowling has been one of the most prolific celebrities in the "No" campaign, publishing the reasons for her decision on her website and engaging in lively debate on Twitter.

Rowling, who was born in England but has lived in Edinburgh for 21 years and is married to a Scot, donated one million pounds (S$2.05 million) to the anti-independence Better Together campaign.

"I doubt whether we will ever have been more popular, or in a better position to dictate terms, than if we vote to stay," Rowling wrote.

Taking a more humorous tone, "Austin Powers" actor Mike Myers spoke in the voice of his Scottish ogre character "Shrek" when asked his opinion of the campaign in a radio interview.

"Shrek wants what the will of the Scottish people want," Myers responded in Shrek's distinctive Scottish accent. Then he added in his native Canadian voice "I love Scotland. I hope they remain part of Britain - and if they don't, I still love them."

Actress Emma Thomson said "I understand the romance of it. I understand the passion for it, given that the relationship between the two countries has been so belligerent and so difficult and England was so awful to Scotland."

But she added: "I find it difficult to accept it when borders are still causing so many problems. 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?"

Music legend David Bowie expressed his view in a message read out by model Kate Moss at an awards show: "Scotland, stay with us".

James Bond backs independence

But other celebrities have proudly backed the idea of Scotland going it alone. Former James Bond actor Connery declared that "as a Scot with a lifelong love of Scotland and the arts, I believe the opportunity of independence is too good to miss."

British director Ken Loach, known for campaigning on social issues, urged Scotland to break free. "The English ruling class are such dyed-in-the-wool imperialists that they can't conceive anything can happen without your approval. But I think: go for it. Other colonised countries have asserted their independence," Loach said.

Comedian Russell Brand added his name to independence supporters one week from the referendum. "I've never voted but if I was Scottish I'd vote yes," he wrote on Twitter.

He joins Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, designer Vivienne Westwood and actor-director Peter Mullan.

Others remain cautious of expressing a view, wary of attracting anger from the other side of the debate. Scottish actor and X-Men star James McAvoy has refused to back either the "Yes" or "No" camps, and has criticised the "political bickering...between both camps". "I won't divulge partly for career preservation," McAvoy said.

Tennis player Andy Murray has also declined to comment on the referendum. "I don't know a whole lot about politics, and I have made that mistake in the past and it's caused me a headache for seven or eight years of my life and a lot of abuse," he said at the BNP Paribas Open. "So I wouldn't consider getting involved in something like that ever again."

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