Coming up with withering criticism of Craig Whyte came easily to the former Rangers manager on a return visit to Ibrox yesterday, but being asked for an opinion on the extent of Sir David Murray's culpability was another matter. Murray and Smith lived high on the hog together when the trophies stockpiled at Rangers in the 1990s, Murray delivering the money and Smith the silver. The double act worked again from 2007-10, even if Smith was given far less to spend second time around.
The relationship was as tight as any between a chairman and his manager, but Smith is a close enough observer of Rangers' implosion to know that Murray must shoulder an enormous amount of responsibility for what has happened to them. Never mind his decision to use Employee Benefit Trusts – which could land the club with another enormous tax bill and brutal punishments from the SPL if an investigation finds them guilty of undisclosed payments to players – it was Murray who handed the Ibrox keys to Whyte. "There is obviously a responsibility there that they take; Sir David Murray and the Murray Group," said Smith. "They have got a bit to answer for. Sir David has come out and said that he can only apologise. I never thought I would read anywhere a quote from him saying he was 'duped'. But, there you are, it happened. It has happened now.
"The problem we have is that he [Whyte] is still here. That is the biggest problem Rangers have. It doesn't matter that the administrators [Duff & Phelps] come out and 'say Craig Whyte is an irrelevance'. He seems to be showing otherwise. I think that is the biggest crime at the moment, that he still has the capability of affecting what happens at the football club."
Smith and Murray were brothers-in-arms for years. He has no such bond with Whyte. "There were a lot of people working at Rangers who had no idea what he was doing. They're not kidding people on: they didn't have an idea what was happening. But you can bring the SFA into it, too." When former chairman Alastair Johnston and chief executive Martin Bain questioned Whyte's credentials at the time of the takeover, said Smith, had their reservations been notified to the SFA? "If they were, then the SFA are compliant in that as well."
He spoke about Whyte with a barely disguised combination of contempt and disbelief. What galled him most was the non-payment of taxes and bills: not as a consequence of running out of money, but as brazen strategy and policy decision from the outset. "What I can't stomach with him is that right from the very start this has been an intentional aspect of his ownership. That's really difficult to accept for those of us who have been involved at the club for a long time. To be quite honest, I would say at the present moment I just hope that the club is sold and he is away, and that we can recover again and basically forget all about him.
"He had previous of closing companies and making ordinary people unemployed. That, to me, would maybe sum him up more than anything else. Anyone who could do that in my mind isn't someone I want to spend a great deal of time thinking about to be honest with you. Craig Whyte? His time will be remembered, that is one certainty.
"In a 'normal' administration clubs have gone into it because of a general inability to pay their bills. What happened here was that an individual chose not to pay the bills, so it wasn't the club's inability to pay their debts that has put them into the administration it was the fact that one individual didn't want to pay the bills. The circumstances are different and I think it should be looked at in a different light from other situations."
Smith's view is that Rangers had not reneged on any bills before Whyte took over. Although the "big tax case" had arisen, they were reducing their debt to Lloyds Banking Group and were no longer spending way beyond their means. "Rangers had to operate under stringent restraints and I complained because I had to field what I thought was the best team. But we went nearly three years without signing a player. It wasn't as if we were gaining a major advantage over the last few years by spending money we didn't have, winning league championships, going into administration and walking away."
What Smith did do, unwittingly, was step down as manager last May and leave his successor, prodigy and friend to deal with what became the meltdown of Whyte's mismanagement. "Ally has seen this dismantle in front of him and he has had to handle it, which he has done brilliantly because there has been nobody there to help him. There are no directors, it has only been Ally and the administrators. He has had to handle an awful lot.
"There is nobody there. Even if somebody says he can come to somebody that he knows who is more experienced – like myself, Sir Alex Ferguson or others he speaks to – we have never been in this sort of situation. There is no one there who can help him."
McCoist himself, meanwhile, issued a statement yesterday distancing himself from yobs who had threatened the members of the SFA's Judicial Panel who imposed a £160,000 fine and one-year signing embargo on the club. The manager said he was disgusted by the turn of events.
McCoist had called for the anonymous panel members to be publicly named. "When I called for full transparency on Tuesday I took the view that the decision by the Judicial Panel should be subject to proper scrutiny," he said. "I fully understand that there are difficult decisions to be taken in football and they will never suit everyone but in this day and age clarity and transparency are surely of paramount importance.
"That said, I would not for one moment want anyone to interpret my remarks as a signal to engage in any form of threatening behaviour. Such activity disgusts me and anyone who engages in it does Rangers Football Club nothing but harm."