Welcome to the Republic of Mel Gibson

Last week, the Scottish National Party became the largest party—by one seat—in the Scottish Parliamentary election.

Credit for this development belongs, in no small part, to Mel Gibson—and to Braveheart.

Twelve years ago, when the epic adventure movie was first released, Scotland was a nation in name only. It was part of Great Britain, governed from London, with a London-based member of Parliament as secretary of state for Scotland. (He was booed at the premiere of the film.)

Since then, the Scots have established their own Parliament through devolution, giving them local control over disbursement of public money for things like health care, police and economic development.

Braveheart—a rollicking film that is the most prominent specimen in a genre in which Mr. Gibson covers himself in the blood of Englishmen—has helped take this a step further, transferring a calibrated campaign for local control of some spending to a cry for actual independence.

The Gibson-directed epic, released in 1995, was a creative reimagining of the story of William Wallace, the Scots warrior who, seven centuries ago, led his bedraggled army of rebel Highlanders to victory over the better-armed forces of the English king.

For many of today’s Scots, Mr. Gibson’s movie has become the definitive reading of their history.

“For many [Scots], their only concept of Scottish history is that face-painted Aussie charging down hillsides shouting ‘Freedom!’” said Callum Laidlaw, a Scottish public-relations executive who lives and works in London.

The S.N.P., a party whose most famous supporter is Sean Connery—who lives in the Bahamas, but who said earlier this year, “I look forward to coming home to an independent Scotland”—has taken full advantage, exhorting supporters on its Web site to “Fly the Flag for Wallace.”

Welcome to the Republic of Mel Gibson