Iceberg Alert For Mike Ashley

I remember a milionaire I knew who, when asked why he was so glum replied that, thanks to poor investment advice, he was down to his last couple of million.

Not a “problem” most will ever have to contend with and not a problem at all to many I would warrant but I suppose it’s all relative.

I am reminded of this when I look at Mike Ashley’s current plight – if plight it could be called.

Here is a man making millions hand over fist thanks to his undoubted business acumen and decision-making. Yet he is also under fierce attack on several fronts – football, media and political, both in Scotland and England. Arguably he is one of the most vilified – if not hated – men in Britain.

122860022_BIZ_Ashle_388827cA consequence of success in this backward-thinking country, some might argue and thus a price to pay for it. There is even a case to be made that the millions offer much greater comfort than the negativity provides discomfort, affording Ashley the luxury of largely ignoring his detractors and even laughing at them.

But disdain toward all the opposition he now faces could be the little fox that spoils the considerable vine that is Ashley’s business empire.

Let’s look at the problems Ashley faces on the footballing front. Or we should say fronts plural because at both Newcastle United and Rangers, the sports billionaire faces prety stiff opposition.

A well-orchestrated propaganda campaign virtually blitzed what was perceived to be a Mike Ashley-controlled board out of Ibrox. This campaign preyed on latent distrust of billionaires in the Scottish psyche and was encapsulated by the notorious “Spivs out!” catchphrase. Use of rat masks and other props demoinised Ashley in the eyes of many susceptible fans. The vehicle created as a populist group to make Ashley toxic to the Rangers fan base was the Sons of Struth.

Now Newcastle United fans are following suit, with Sons of Struth founder Craig Houston “advising” Toon supporters on how to eject Ashley – a far more difficult task at a club where Ashley dominates the shareholding and has the club in a vice-like grip thanks to a massive loan.

The militancy that is being demonstrated towards Ashley is not accidental – and only the most gullible of Rangers and NUFC fans would accept it is entirely justified. It is, after all, Ashley’s millions that are funding Newcastle and, despite waging a vicious media war against Ashley, the new regime at Ibrox has spectacularly failed to pay him off as a major creditor. This makes the coup against him seem petty and spiteful and indeed the new bioard has been mocked for drinking coffee Big Mike paid for.

Mike Ashley has many detractors. But the old adage of Money talks, Bullshit walks is still his strongest defence. It is easy to decry the rough way he does business but it is not so easy to come up with a credible alternative; credible being something that includes matching Ashley’s substantial wealth.

Interestingly, Ashley is being derided by frustrated Newcastle fans for demonstrating a distinct lack of ambition, while at Ibrox he was targeted for being too ambitious. The prospect of a serious billionaire with wealth that dwarfed Celtic’s Dermot Desmond was just too much to take for a Celtic-dominated Scottish football. This curiously included the “Real Rangers Men” who wanted Rangers for themselves and their supporters. It aapears that many in the Rangers support would rather settle for the mediocrity of sharing dominance with their arch-rivals than seeing the club go to a whole new level funded by a proper multi-billionaire.

There are those who will say that Ashley showed no such intent and to a certain extent they are right.

There is no hard evidence to suggest that Ashley bought into the original Green Consortium vision of Rangers becoming a European giant. Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that the sportswear tycoon only ever wanted a decent-sized platform in Scottish football to enhance his business in Scotland and that a partnership with Rangers was all he really sought.

I know that Ashley only ever got seriously involved after other investors were scared away so perhaps it is unfair of those Rangers fans who saw his millions as a path to domination to expect so much of him.

The problem is that nobody knows what Mike Ashley is thinking.

This is maybe something that works in other industries and can actually be a strength. In football, however, it is not just a weakness; it is a disaster.

There are few people who can tell Mike Ashley how to do business. And you cannot argue with the man’s ability to run a football club as a going concern.

However, Ashley is a massive fail in an area where it really does count. He is failing miserably at getting fans onboard with his plans – entirely because he doesn’t appear to have any discernible plans.

Ashley and his businesses are PR disasters. He – and they – fail to communicate effectively with supporters. Supporters are, of course, consumers and when consumers turn on a business, that is when the brown stuff really does hit the fan.

To a great extent, Ashley’s ability to sell sportswear at affordable prices and make a fortune doing so has made him immune to criticism elsewhere. But if that criticism and negativity grows until it hits his core business, then he could be in a world of hurt. There is no doubt that what has been going on at Rangers and is going on now at Newcastle United is a hole in the hull. The question is will this hole grow to a point where it can sink the whole ship?

Ashley and his advisors now have to grapple with the very real issue of whether what is going on at Ibrox and St James Park is just the tip of a very big iceberg which could turn Ashley’s empire into a business Titanic.

A man demonised by the media, lambasted and hounded by politicians and despised by a growing number of football fans does not have his troubles to seek.What is remarkable about Mike Ashley is that many of these troubles are self-inflicted and easily solved.

The man dubbed Britain’s Howard Hughes must find a way to engage with the wider world beyond branding everything that moves or doesn’t move.

As the old Chinese proverb says, Man who wants to open shop must learn how to smile.

In the 21st century, we could add an addendum and modify this to:

Man who wants to open shop must learn how to smile. Or hire good PR.

Strength In Unity – The Lesson We Must Learn

I spent much of last year speaking and writing about how divided our nation was in the run-up to the Referendum.

A year on and those divisions are deeper than ever. What is astonishing is that the Scottish NATIONALIST Party is now the party that may hold the whip hand in a hung Parliament. Having lost the democratic battle to rule Scotland on their terms, they now may be given the opportunity of ruling the UK. Such is the possibility that democracy brings to the political process and such is the folly it can produce.

I also spoke a lot last year about how Labour and the SNP were two cheeks of the same backside; perhaps an odd and incongruous thing to say at a time when the Labour Party fought so valiantly in defence of the Union. However, recent developments have proved me right. Although there are undoubtedly British patriots in the Labour movement. it has been a haven for many over the years who have no particular fondness for the Union or the Monarchy. And that is putting it mildly.

Labour and the SNP are bonded by the common core of socialism and this is a stronger bond than many like to face up to. On top of this, there is a strong faction in the Labour Party in Gasgow who secretly wanted independence and who have strong republican leanings.

I recently heard someone say that there is no such thing as right wing or left wing anymore – there are only nationalists and globalists. This certainly applies to the political landscape in Britain right now but I would modify it by saying that right and left are synonymous with nationalist and globalist.It also explains the inevitable alignment of Labour and the SNP – with other satellite parties perhaps joining in.

The SNP are not true nationalists – they are globalists. Their “nationalism” is not a desire to be truly independent; it is just a hatred of Britain given expression in a political vehicle.

UKIP is a truly nationalist party.UKIP’s aim is for Britain to retain and maintain national sovereignty. The SNP would simply swap allegiance to the UK for allegiance to Brussels.

The perfct political storm seems to be descending upon us. There is even the possibility of Sinn Fein joining a coalition of Labour and the SNP. This may even prompt them to drop their boycott of Westminster and take up their seats in Parliament.

Such a prospect would horrify many. But the backlash may be the thing that awakens the massive sleeping giant of English nationalism, something that plays right into the hands of Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalists. There are already disturbing signs that people who identify more with the concept of Englishness than Britishness may have coomonality with nationalists elsewhere in the British Isles.

This sizable body of English nationalists may be more inclined to true nationalism than the likes of SNP and Sinn Fein but they may be useful allies in the common goal – breaking up the UK.

This is also why a Tory victory in the forthcoming General Election suits Nicola Sturgeon to a tee. She will be able to use another five years of a Conservative government to whip up separatist frenzy – and the Labour Party will be given the unpalatable job yet again of defending the Union and being seen to be backing the Tories.

Alternatively, should Ed Miliband get over the line but with the necessary help of the SNP, Sturgeon would be the real power in the land, dominating UK politics,

Sturgeon appears to be holding all the cards. Activating English nationalism is a no-brainer to help her in her own quest to break Scotland from the Union. She can do this either by antagonizing or befriending them. Either way, they are her natural allies in a shared purpose.

Thus is the nation divided. The old demarcation lines of right and left, capitalist and socialist, have not gone away. They have crystallised and become more defined, albeit in different expressins.

The divide will, through time, bottom out to monarchist or republican.

Back in the 20th century a Glasgow minister prophesied that Britain would one day be divided betwen those loyal to the Throne and those who wanted a global government. In essence, he was predicting a dnation divided betwen British nationalists and globalists.

We are pretty much there.

It’s not Tory/UKIP versus Labour/everybody else. These are just political expressions and the sad thing is that most never see past the political masks.

But it is about values and loyalty.

You either see the world from a British perspective or you don’t.

Some are bifocal but it is arguable that this is because they have never really made a determined choice. In Scotland, it was perfectly acceptable to be both British AND Scotiish. Then the Referendum happened and the both/and became for many an either/or.

It may be necessary for such polarisation to take place from time to time. it brings clarity and may help shape things going forward. That it is bitterly divisive and painful cannot be argued with.

Another thing I said and wrote a lot last year was that Scotland’s destiny was not to run away from the Union in a sulk at wrongs and injustices imagined or otherwise but to bring leadership to the Union. I didn’t have in mind the hostage politics Nicola Sturgeon is now playing at Westminster but the SNP’s spectacular capture of power over the UK political scene actually shatters their own myth of Scottish impotence at Westminster.

Our political system is tired, drained and strained. It is in major need of radical overhaul. The answer is not to jettison the Union. The Union transcends politics. A major problem with the debate over the Union is the fallacious idea that politics can provide the solution.

The answer is to change society by bringing cultural transformation. This includes transitioning from our hackneyed system of hostility politics to a new, harmonious process. It is seeking transformation rather than confrontation.

A great example is our continued use of the word “Opposition” to label parties who are not in power. imagine if we changed this to “Support” or “Partner” parties.

It is all about perspective.

And it is not just about politics. Old scores and scars are still prevalent among our island peoples – religious, social, tribal, political among them. These things require peaceful solutions and closure. The will to do this comes from a change in culture and can never be ahieved through adversorial politics.

Parties like the SNP thrive by feeding on peopes’ paranoai, mistrust and sense of grievance. They offer a polluted view of the world and poisoned solutions which necessitate having enemies to hate and wars to fight. In many ways what we have today is the distillation of previous centuries of political process, most especialyy the twentieth.

What we require is to leave this process in the dust and move forward.

There should be no losers as a result of politics – only degrees of victory and satisfaction.

This can only come through unity, harmony and co-operation. This doesn’t mean compromise, selling out and giving in. It means a commitment to seek solutions we all can live with. At the very least it means we can respect each other’s differences without labelling people as enemies.

The Act of Union was designed to be an end to petty tribalism and vacuous nationalism that divided us and made us weak.

It has not failed us but we have failed it.

Strength comes through unity and it is time we learned this.