BY common consent it's never a good idea to take issue with Sir Alex Ferguson.
At Manchester United he rules with the rod of a North Korean Kim. He makes the rules and anyone who ignores them can expect to be shown the door. When he's angry, he throws objects, such as football boots, at those who have incurred his displeasure. When he's enraged, which is not infrequently, he has been compared to a hair-dryer, though a flame-thrower may have been more appropriate.
It is therefore with some trepidation that I venture to disagree with him. Sir Alex says that on the issue of independence he will not allow Alex Salmond to silence him. In particular, Sir Alex is incensed that the SNP wants to put a cap on donations to organisations involved in the independence debate, having, apparently, already given a whacking £501 to the pro-Union Better Together campaign.
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What moneys should or should not be allowed to be donated does not concern me here. What does is Sir Alex's assertion that he and the 800,000 Scots who live in other parts of the United Kingdom should have as much of a say in this nation's future as those of us whose home it presently is.
Admittedly, this is a tricky problem. Sir Alex is, of course, Scottish; how could he not be with a complexion like his? He was born in Scotland, played for Scotland and even briefly managed the national team, for which – one draw and two defeats at the 1986 World Cup finals – we should let bygones by bygones. He may even be, as an SNP spokesman said recently, a "great" Scot, a tribe whose number appears to increase by the day.
Doubtless Sir Alex would like to have a vote in the forthcoming referendum. And there's no reason why he should not have one. All he need do is take up residence in Scotland and register. But if he is not willing to make such a magnificent sacrifice then he must accept that what happens in 2014 will be a decision made by those of us who live here.
That seems to me to be entirely reasonable. It is certainly the view of all the main political parties. As Alistair Darling, who is fronting the Better Together campaign, has observed, the only sensible way to organise the referendum is by restricting those who can vote to those who are on the electoral register north of the Border.
In the meantime, however, it is unlikely that prominent Scots, such as Sir Alex, who live elsewhere, will refrain from sticking in their oar. That is their prerogative. It is ours, too, to ignore them. Scarcely a day goes by without one or other of them riffing on what life will be like hereabouts if independence becomes a reality.
None, needless to say, forecasts much sunshine. On the contrary, the chances are that we will become the equivalent of Albania or Belarus or Greece, destined to be labelled an anarchic, economic basket case at the mercy, perhaps, of invasion from the Faroe Islands should we not have nuclear weapons or Nato to prevent it.
This attitude is what an unnamed Scottish professor of political science, quoted in a recent article in the Los Angeles Review of Books, describes as "fears, smears and jeers", which those in the No lobby insist on spreading. Behind it all, one detects a whiff of superiority coming from fellow Scots especially in the deep south, the suggestion being that they are the elite and that the rest of us ought to be content to rejoice in their success.
Which is fine, as far as it goes. It would be churlish and too sickeningly Scottish to dissent. But what one cavils at, what gives one pause for thought, is the notion that without these special beings we would struggle to survive, which is risible. For while it's true that many of the brightest and best Scots had to leave Scotland to prosper many others, perhaps the brightest and the best, stayed put and invested their energy and entrepreneurship and intelligence in trying to make Scotland as good a country as it can be. Sorry Sir Alex.