MANCHESTER United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has accused Alex Salmond of trying to “silence” Scots who live in the rest of the UK after the First Minister called for severe restrictions on the sums of cash they can donate to the independence referendum.
In an interview in America in October, Salmond said he did not want the election “bought and sold for English gold”, as he demanded tight restrictions on spending in the 2014 vote.
The pro-Independence YesScotland campaign has imposed a £500 per person limit on donations from outside Scotland in an attempt to set a marker. But Ferguson today reveals he has handed a symbolic sum of £501 to the Better Together pro-Union camp in a bid to highlight what he claims is the injustice of the cap.
He adds: “Eight-hundred-thousand Scots, like me, live and work in other parts of the United Kingdom,” he says. “We don’t live in a foreign country; we are just in another part of the family of the UK.
“Scots living outside Scotland but inside the UK might not get a vote in the referendum, but we have a voice and we care deeply about our country.
“It is quite wrong of the man who is supposed to be leader of Scotland to try and silence people like this. I played for Scotland and managed the Scotland team. No-one should question my Scottishness just because I live south of the Border.”
Ferguson’s protest over the SNP’s funding limits came as the Better Together campaign accused Salmond and the Scottish Government of trying to “fix” the referendum with tight caps on campaign spending, which, it argues, are designed to help the independence cause. Salmond has declared that the two campaigns – YesScotland and Better Together – should only be allowed to spend £750,000 in the four-month “regulated” period before the vote, but this has prompted protests that this bears no relation to the size of the opposing forces and how much finance they can raise.
Parties at Holyrood – no matter their size of representation – would be limited to £250,000 each, while unions and business groups would be restricted to just £50,000.
Rules set out under UK referendum law have suggested a limit of £1.5 million, but the pro-UK camp has warned that even this sum is too low, claiming it would mean the campaigns spending half as much as was laid out in the 1997 devolution campaign.
The Electoral Commission is now considering its verdict, but Better Together chief executive Blair McDougall warned last night that he would consider legal action if Salmond forced through his own plans against the commission’s advice.
He claimed the tight limits were a deliberate “fix” by the pro-independence side to dampen the campaign’s profile in the last four months, in the hope that soft pro-Union voters stayed at home, and pro-Independence backers did not get second thoughts.
He claimed the cap on spending for the campaigns would prevent them from leafleting every home in Scotland, and mean they could not afford to recruit volunteers.
The campaign also believes the caps given to the political parties should be linked to their representation at Holyrood. Salmond’s plans would see the Scottish Greens, which have two seats, get the same as the other parties.
In a submission to the Electoral Commission, McDougall claims the Scottish Government’s proposals “appear specifically designed to unfairly fix the rules of the referendum and to stifle the debate on Scottish independence. We believe the existing Scottish Government proposals are fundamentally anti-democratic and risk undermining confidence in the result of the referendum.
“They are a naked attempt to give parties who have little support a disproportionate role in the debate compared to groups which represent a far wider section of Scottish society.”
An SNP spokesman said: “The No campaign wants to spend a silly amount of cash, tripling the current spending limits for our population share. It can only be because they are so bereft of volunteers to knock doors for free that they want to bombard voters with unsolicited mail and phone calls.”
On Sir Alex’s comments, he added that it was not Ferguson’s £501 they objected to but money from Conservative Party fundraisers held in England.
“We welcome the views of Scots anywhere and everywhere to the debate on Scotland’s future.”