By a Newsnet reporter
Former Aberdeen football manager Sir Alex Ferguson has urged local voters in the Donside constituency to use their by-election vote to send what he claimed would be a “powerful message” against independence.
Long time Labour supporter Ferguson became the highest profile celebrity to bring his voice to the campaign where he endorsed local councillor Willie Young.
However, the football legend who recently announced his retirement as manager of Manchester United, suggested voters should ignore local issues and instead use their vote to demonstrate their support for the Union.
Speaking to STV, he said: “This is an important by-election and I really hope people vote for Willie Young and the Labour party in Donside.
“He is best placed to beat the SNP and send a powerful message against the campaign for independence.”
Ferguson, who left Scotland thirty years ago to take up the manager’s role at Old Trafford, said he was still Scottish despite living in England.
“I have lived in England for many years now, but I am as Scottish as the day I was born, and hope passionately that Scotland remains part of the UK. We are indeed better together.
“Willie is a good local man who would do a great job for a part of the world that means a lot to me.”
The football legend’s support for the Labour candidate is not unexpected and will give a boost to Labour candidate Young’s beleaguered campaign.
Young has been criticised for backing the return of council tax increases and has also come under fire after arguing that free University tuition should end.
Responding to Sir Alex’s comments the SNP highlighted the backing their own candidate Mark McDonald had received from former Dons’ legend Joe Harper.
However they also pointed out that Sir Alex had previously given his backing to a candidate who had complained about the amount of funding the SNP had provided for Aberdeen.
An SNP Spokesperson said: “Sir Alex is greatly respected by people regardless of his or their politics. He does, of course, back Labour by-election candidates across the UK. In 2009, for example, he endorsed their candidate in Glasgow North East, even though Willie Bain attacked extra cash for Aberdeen being delivered by the SNP.”
MEANWHILE SNP Donside by-election candidate Mark McDonald this afternoon visited local community radio station SHMU with First Minister Alex Salmond, to learn about the work the station is doing to promote opportunities for young people.
Station House Media Unit (SHMU) is a Community Media Unit operating in regeneration areas across Aberdeen. SHMU is backed by a number of funders, including Scottish Government money via the Cashback for Communities programme and Inspiring Scotland.
Since its launch in 2007, the Scottish Government’s Cashback for Communities initiative has seen increasing amounts criminal assets spent in Aberdeen alone, with over 18,000 young people having benefited from dozens of sports, arts and other community initiatives.
Cashback spending in the city increased from £144,324 in 2007, to £377,766 in 2011/12 – an increase of 161.75%.
Last week, Mr McDonald launched his manifesto for young people, outlining his key priorities for Aberdeen Donside’s young people if elected as their MSP. As well as a cast-iron commitment to maintaining free higher education in Scotland and ensuring young carers are fully recognised within education and social care, Mr McDonald has pledged to work with local companies to employ more apprentices and young people.
Commenting after the visit, First Minister Alex Salmond said:
“Up and down the country, organisations like SHMU do tremendous work with young people – building up their skills, qualifications, and most importantly their self-esteem.
“The sharp falls in youth unemployment that we have seen across Scotland can only be built upon with the right policies, and the hard work of organisations like SHMU.
“In Government, the SNP has invested heavily in our young people. We were the first part of the UK to appoint a dedicated Youth Employment Minister, and the flagship Opportunities for All initiative is for the first time offering a guarantee of an education or training opportunity to those not currently in a post.”
Mr McDonald added:
“With schemes like Opportunities for All and Cashback for Communities, the SNP are delivering for Donside’s young people. In Aberdeen alone we have seen Cashback spending increase by over 160% in the last few years, making a real difference to communities in this city.
“But of course, like every other community on Scotland, we rely on excellent organisations like SHMU to bring young people together.
“We have restored free higher education in Scotland – despite the best efforts of opposition parties, and the Labour candidate’s position that fees should be reintroduced; the percentage of school leavers in Aberdeen going to college has increased from 18.9% in 2007/8 to 25.4% in 2011/12; and the number of young people starting Modern Apprentices in Aberdeen has increased by 60% since the SNP took office.
“Aberdeen is a city of huge underlying economic strengths and if elected as MSP I will work hard to ensure that young people in Aberdeen Donside get the work, training and education opportunities they need.”