“At the end of a shift, the streets would be filled with thousands of hurrying men, nearly all of them wearing cloth caps… It was an unforgettable sight, that tide of bunnets.

I remember waiting at the gates of the yard where my father worked, eager to recognise him among the mass of grimy, heavy-booted figures clattering towards me.”

Sir Alex Ferguson is as Scottish as can be. His working-class upbringing on the hardscrabble streets of 1940s and 50s Glasgow is wonderfully conjured in his first autobiography, Managing My Life. That famous Govan accent has made precisely zero accommodation with all the international success and acclaim, the 32 years living in Manchester, the many trips to football’s global cathedrals like the Camp Nou and the San Siro, the thousands of TV interviews, and the lecturing at Harvard.

READ MORE: Football world unites in prayers for legend of the game Sir Alex Ferguson

The streetwise, shipyard toughness helped him become a towering figure in the planet’s most competitive sport. “It has been said that the values great managers like Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby [and] Bill Shankly… brought to their jobs in football were rooted in their mining background,” he wrote. “I have no doubt it is true and I am sure, too, that any success I have had in handling men, and especially in creating a culture of loyalty and commitment in teams I have managed, owes much to my upbringing among the working men of Clydeside.” In other words, he has the authority and approach of a born gaffer. Fergie remains one of us: he just happens to have gone out and conquered the world.

His relentless vitality, that abundant life-force, adds an extra layer of shock to the news that the great man has suffered a brain haemorrhage. He has undergone surgery, which doctors say means the trauma is likely at the more serious end of the scale. Sir Alex is only 76 – a decent age, of course, but one feels it should be little more than a staging post for such a formidable man.

He’s meant a great deal to me over the years. I’ve been a passionate Man Utd fan since childhood, back when they were rubbish. It’s an attachment that did much to shape my Britishness. After Fergie took over, I rode the initial lows, then the highs, then the even greater highs with him. He was an inspiration when I moved to London and ended up running an intimidatingly posh and smart team of Old Etonian and Oxbridge types. Fergie’s example served me well: well, why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t any of us?

There are so many more lessons to be drawn. His self-belief was backed by achievement rather than empty swagger; his personal financial success was arrived at and merited by a ferocious work ethic – he would always be the first person in at Old Trafford on weekday mornings; he was dedicated to his family; he never seemed to forget the values many Scots profess to hold dear: community, solidarity, a fair crack of the whip for ordinary folk.

Craig Brown: 'Ferguson - the greatest manager on the planet - will fight illness'

He believed in that tide of bunnets. His time in the shipyards, where he became a shop steward, helped forge a lifelong attachment to the Labour Party. He was an active and vocal supporter of New Labour and its election-winning pragmatism: “I think part of Tony Blair’s success as a leader was showing success and Labour could go together,” he said.

When it came to the independence referendum, Sir Alex was of course on the side of Better Together. He spoke in a way that, for No voters like me, captured the essence of how we felt at the time: “Eight hundred thousand Scots, like me, live and work in other parts of the United Kingdom. We don’t live in a foreign country; we are just in another part of the family of the UK.”

There’s something poignant in the fact he was admitted to hospital on the day 35,000 people (according to the police estimate) took to the streets of Glasgow to march in support of independence. As a mighty Scottish lion of the Union lay seriously wounded, the opposing side got the gang back together. They want a second referendum and they want one now, regardless of how Nicola Sturgeon rates her chances of winning it.

I won’t deny that the past few years have been a challenge to that 2014 notion of a UK “family”. Brexit, the subsequent sharp shift rightwards of the Tories, and the ideological sabotage of Labour by Jeremy Corbyn and his allies have all been driven by England, and have at times made it and Westminster seem more of a cold, distant cousin than a close and treasured sibling. The outcome and consequences of the EU referendum have asked some serious and as yet unanswered questions about the mechanics of the Union settlement. I’ve written before that my own Unionism has as a result become more transactional and less emotional.

READ MORE: Football world unites in prayers for legend of the game Sir Alex Ferguson

But if aspects of the pro-Britain case have been weakened, the kind of display we saw in Glasgow on Saturday only makes people like me – let’s call us the unpersuaded but no longer unpersuadable – run a mile. The hokey tartanfest, the pathetically abusive all-caps banners – “TORY SCUM OUT; ‘RED TORIES OUT” – and the speechifying by ludicrous figures like Tommy Sheridan are a self-inflicted wound. This vision of an independent Scotland suggests something insular, limited and limiting, twee and wee. Why would we surrender our nation and culture to such people?

The Scottishness of Sir Alex is something more attractive entirely – it is integral to his sense of identity yet relaxed in its skin, it doesn’t feel the need to shout about itself or stoat about the streets in an ill-fitting kilt, it serves as shorthand for a compelling set of values, and it has been a springboard to taking on the world on his own terms. It is ambitious, looks out on the world with hungry eyes, and asks: well, why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t we?

The evidence of the weekend is that the wider independence movement has learned almost nothing about how to win. Here’s a tip: the first section of the first chapter of Sir Alex Ferguson’s last book, Leading, is titled “Listening”.