Politicians have never been able to resist celebrity endorsement. I remember when I was standing for Labour in 1992 we got quite excited when ‘Wee Burney’ from Rab C Nesbitt (the late Eric Cullen) came down to Ayr to lend his support. It was hardly David Bowie but it countered my Tory opponent Phil Gallie's photo call with Sydney Devine. It was all heady stuff! Politicians have craved celebrity endorsement since Warren G Harding became US President with the support of Al Jolson and a whole host of others in 1920. Kennedy was famous for his Sinatra Rat Pack. In the UK, Thatcher attracted many stars of the day – Bob Monkhouse, Jim Davidson, Lulu, and Kenny Everett. The last also being a warning to politicians of how celebrity endorsement can rebound on you with his call to ‘bomb Russia and kick Michael Foot’s stick away’. The attraction was mutual - many stars being seduced by the political spirit of the age. The same was true of Blair’s Cool Brittania with everyone who was anyone wanting to get an invite to No 10 when New Labour ruled the waves .
Some celebrity endorsements are of course not just for Christmas but for life. I can think of the SNP’s Sean Connery and the Proclaimers; Labour’s Jo Brand and Alex Ferguson. Some stars see their commitment taking them into active politics themselves like Glenda Jackson, Michael Cashman, Tony Robinson and putative Mayor of London, Eddie Izzard.
It was inevitable that the two sides in the referendum debate would seek to line up their celebrity endorsements - the Yes side with Allan Cumming and Brian Cox at the launch of Yes Scotland and the No side with J K Rowling, John Barrowman, Shareen Spiteri. A growing number appear to be drawing back from endorsing one side or the other, content to leave it to ordinary voters to decide. Some like Andy Murray and Sir Chris Hoy have hinted at where they might stand but have decided to keep their own counsel. Another reason for some artists to stay neutral is to avoid the social media (especially cybernat) abuse and vitriol hurled at anyone who speaks up on these issues. Many artists, composers, writers, sports stars or performers decide it is not worth it, either professionally or personally.
On the Yes side there has been another development – the setting up of the National Collective, These are artists and creatives (in the very widest and loosest sense of these words) who form a corporate body of support for Scottish Independence. I don’t doubt their sincerity but at best they seem a rather pompous romantic development and at worst slightly creepy.
Yet another angle on celebrity endorsement is the attempt to bring into the debate historical figures. During Burns Season we were invited to speculate how Robert Burns would have voted in the referendum. Apart from the fact the evidence more or less cancels itself out on either side of the argument there is the small point that he was a man of his time, living before devolution or democracy (he never had a vote on anything). We’ve even had Keir Hardie drawn into this – how would he have voted? Here in Ayrshire we claim him as one of our own but we also know he was a great internationalist and pacifist; he supported a Scottish Parliament within the UK; he helped build the Labour and trade union movement in Scotland but also in the UK; he represented a Welsh then an English constituency.
You can’t really get any better stardust scattered on you than the endorsement of David Bowie. The Bowie song title parodies have filled the twittersphere since his Brit Awards comment– my favourite being MSP Kezia Dugdale’s ‘Pound Control to Major Tom’. However, we now have to give equal billing to Kermit the Frog who has also called for Scotland to stay in the UK. Being realistic, politicians will never be able to resist celebrity endorsement but when it comes to something as important as the future of Scotland we would be better not looking to celebrities past or present, near or far. Instead, we should focus on what's best for our children, our grandchildren and those who will follow them, and decide on that basis. I had Billy Connelly and Annie Lennox round for tea the other day and they agreed with me.