James Bond actor Sir Sean Connery demanded help with his taxes from Tony Blair’s government to campaign for Scotland to have its own Parliament in late 1997.
The Hollywood actor claimed in a meeting with Peter Mandelson that it was "iniquitous to him personally" that he was liable for tax if he spent more than 90 days in the UK, when others such as "Arabs" were "not subject to the same strictures".
Labour had won power on a pledge to offer regional assemblies to the Scots and Welsh subject to referendums in Scotland and Wales that September, prompting ministers to look around for high-profile supporters.
In a note from June 4, 1997 from Mr Mandelson, the then-minister without portfolio, to Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair’s chief of staff, disclosed that Connery – a longtime supporter of Scottish independence – was demanding some leniency with his tax bills if he were to campaign for devolution.
In a note titled "Sean Connery: Devolution and tax", Mr Mandelson wrote: "I have now spoken to Sean Connery, several times over the last 10 days. He is very keen to help promote a ‘yes’ vote on the referendum on devolution in Scotland.
"But he is concerned that his scope to help will be badly constrained by the residency rules, which means that he’s liable for tax if he spends more than 90 days in the UK, in any year."
An image issued by the National Archives of a memo from Peter Mandelson to Jonathan Powell, concerning Sean Connery's commitment to Scottish devolution
Credit: National Archives/PA Wire
Connery, a tax exile who was then living in Marbella and Los Angeles, made clear that he felt other people were not subject to the same requirements.
Mr Mandelson said: "He sees this as iniquitous to him personally, and claims that certain other individuals and indeed ethnic groups (he mentioned the "Arabs") are not subject to the same strictures.
"He also pointed out that the rules in the UK constrain the ability of this country to attract the big movie makers to shoot here.
"It is certainly true that in the last few years, we have lost out on some big pictures to Ireland, in particular, because of their more sympathetic tax arrangements."
Connery had already made these points to Mr Powell earlier in 1997 "at some length in Los Angeles", Mr Mandelson said.
Lord Mandelson was one of the most influential figures within Tony Blair's first Labour government, and one of the co-creator of New Labour
Credit: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg
"Certainly it would be very disappointing if Sean felt unable to help on the devolution front, because of a disproportionate effect on his pocket."
Mr Mandelson suggested Mr Blair "might want to hold a meeting with Sean when he’s next in London, or alternatively, give him a call in Marbella or Los Angeles, to assure that he wanted Connery’s help" and would look "at the tech position, certainly with regard to the film industry".
The memo had sparked some reaction from the officials copied on it. In a handwritten aside someone had scribbled on the note next to Mr Mandelson’s description of a "yes" referendum: “Shurely ‘yesh’”.
The author of the "yesh" comment remains a mystery.
Emma Bache, a handwriting expert consulted by The Telegraph, confirmed on Monday that the remark was unlikely to have been written by Mr Blair or Mr Mandelson.
Connery did later lend his support to the referendum, a fact which SNP leader Alex Salmond later attributed to a comfortable win for the "yes" campaign.