Making History in Scotland

By Sean Connery, an Scottish actor and producer (THE WASHINGTON POST, 24/05/07):

This is a historic week for Scotland. The country's new first minister met Queen Elizabeth -- Queen of England and Queen of Scots -- at Holyrood Palace on Thursday. This was the first time Her Majesty has met the leader of a Scottish government who is committed to Scotland rejoining the community of nations as an equal and independent partner.

The meeting was also the culmination of a month of firsts for Scotland. On May 3, the Scottish National Party (SNP) -- a democratic party, committed to independence, that I have proudly supported all of my adult life -- won the largest number of seats in the Scottish Parliament. And last week the Scottish Parliament elected the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, to the country's top job.

The American media have described this election as good news for the SNP and very bad news for the British government of Tony Blair and his successor, Gordon Brown. What was not covered was the momentous significance for Scotland.

This marks the first time in 50 years that the Labor Party has lost an election in Scotland. Fifty years is a long time -- in politics, it is a virtual eternity.

Scare tactics often work in elections, and with the Labor Party contemplating defeat, it was willing to throw all the negativity it could into this campaign. People in Scotland heard it all: Labor conjured up descriptions of plague and pestilence if Scots voted for the SNP and a new and different government.

And I'll tell you this: It didn't work. In fact, it backfired badly on Labor.

Scots voted for optimism. They voted for change. They voted for progress.

And that is why they voted for the SNP.

Polls show that the SNP is the most trusted party in Scotland. And by a margin of five to one, people think that Alex Salmond cares more than Tony Blair does about making Scotland successful. As for the SNP's position that it makes good democratic sense to ask Scots to decide their own constitutional future in a democratic referendum, a whopping 80 percent of the Scottish public agrees.

My politics come from a simple belief: that my country, Scotland, should have equal status with the nearly 200 other independent countries around the world.

Independence is a concept that Americans inherently understand. After all, the sentiments for freedom in the Declaration of Independence echo those from the Declaration of Arbroath that Scots penned in the 14th century. (We said nothing about the pursuit of happiness, however, a fantastically American addition.)

The debate on an independence referendum is one for another day, and I firmly believe the answer will be yes. This month's election was about a new government. Alex Salmond will be a new kind of first minister for Scotland, a man who answers not to a party in London but to the people of Scotland.

The Scottish public first became aware of Salmond 20 years ago, when, as a young member of the British Parliament at Westminster, he interrupted the chancellor's budget -- the most televised day in British politics -- to protest the government's unfair, regressive tax policies. The House of Commons proceedings ground to a halt as the speaker ejected Salmond. He exited to the waiting cameras outside and the commentators asking who was this young guy with the nerve to interrupt the British chancellor of the exchequer.

In Scotland we saw the picture through a different lens -- we saw someone giving the country a voice and standing up for what he thought was right.

Two decades later, Salmond is leading a new kind of government. Quoting Scottish author Alasdair Gray, he pledged that his government will work as if living in the early days of a better nation.

The exciting thing is that in Salmond, Scotland will have a leader for the first time who both governs well and trusts the people to choose their own future.

No doubt the queen and her first minister had a lot to talk about.