For my own self-preservation I should probably start by making it known that I do not follow football.  Unless I am playing (badly), football is not something which appeals to me.  Add to this the fact that so-called Premier League ‘superstars’ are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week for what seems like quite a charmed life and it is unlikely that I will ever become a convert.

Before every avid football follower kicks off, take for instance the recently announced news regarding Didier Drogba.  As the star of the Chelsea team, Drogba has no doubt been instrumental in helping Chelsea to win numerous Cups, titles and trophies.  And as a trouble-free and committed player, Drogba is seen as a good role model to football mad youngsters who dream of competing on a professional level.  However, despite such accolades should one man be worth the eye-watering £270 000 a week that the Chinese football club Shanghai Shenhua were rumoured to be signing him for?  In a country where poverty is widespread and the average person only earns $5000, the suggested wages are astronomically ridiculous.

I do not doubt that a career as a footballer is hard work.  For every successful Premier League footballer there will be thousands of others desperate to take his place – the effort required to remain at the top of the game and away from the piranhas below is substantial.  By the very nature of the career being a sport, a footballer needs to remain physically fit, free from injury and eat relatively healthy foods.  Again though, does this really justify such a substantial wage?  Many ‘ordinary’ people eat healthily, keep fit and participate in sport without the need for payment.  They simply play for the sheer pleasure of playing.  Likewise, Championship players are paid nowhere near as much for an almost identical role.

Despite being in the depths of the worst financial crisis since 1929, some English clubs are now awash with Arab oil money and investing heavily in players; often paying wages which even before the economic crisis would have been classed as absurd.  Wayne Rooney is purported to be on around £250 000 a week.  Fernando Torres receives an estimated weekly wage of £220 000 and Manchester City’s Yaya Toure earns £220 000 a week.  For Manchester City, the wage demands of players in 2010 led to them spending an estimated 107% of their annual revenue on player salaries.

It has been argued by some that this focus on money has made the game inaccessible to ordinary families and unsustainable in the long run.  With the cheapest adult match tickets now priced at an average of around £35 to see a top-flight football match, the decline in the number of families attending games has been remarkable.  Instead of the family occasion it used to be, it could be argued football has now become a Saturday afternoon jolly; one dominated by wealthy professionals, corporate sponsors and devout followers from the working class.

It is somewhat ironic then that some of the wealthiest people choose to participate in a game played by 22 people and containing thugs such as Joey Barton and Wayne Rooney.  As the ‘star’ midfielder for QPR, Barton has been accused and convicted of common assault and actual bodily harm, yet still manages to commandeer a weekly wage of £60 000.  For a man universally disliked, is he really worth twice as much per week than the average soldier, fire fighter, police officer or nurse is paid in a year?

Joey Barton. Is this serial brawler really worth £60 000 a week?

It is not just footballers who share the unfortunate perception of being overpaid and out of touch.  Within the City of London, executive pay can often reach stratospheric amounts.  As former Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir Fred Goodwin oversaw the meteoric expansion of the bank.  Conversely, because of the actions he took as Chief Executive, Sir Fred Goodwin also oversaw the largest annual loss in UK corporate history; an estimated £24bn.  However, despite his failings resulting in RBS requiring a financial bailout from the taxpayer, Goodwin was awarded with a severance package and pension deal worth an estimated £16m.  The reward for failure had never looked so good.

So, can this be solved?  In the wake of recent public outrage the Coalition government has promised to investigate excessive executive pay.  However, before the righteous get excited it is unlikely that action will be taken because without global agreement, any action to limit executive pay would just be a shambolic and damaging gesture of goodwill designed to appease struggling families.  Legislation would simply force investment abroad, creating further problems for an already economically bruised Britain.

We should also be uneasy about the idea of government intervention to limit top executive pay.  To intervene would have all the hallmarks of a Stalinist state.  It would also risk opening the door to further government intervention regarding pay and bonuses – this affecting the very core of Western civilisation and the capitalist system on which we all depend.

The solution may be much simpler.  Perhaps executives, footballers and high earners should just adopt some common sense and implement some morals.


Alex Salmond: Freedom Fighter

The future flag of the United Kingdom?

The rebels in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt would not exactly call him a ‘comrade in arms.’  Hollywood would no doubt decline any offer to create a movie documenting his ‘struggle,’ and apart from his arrogance he shares little in common with William Wallace.  I am of course referring to Alex Salmond – leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Scottish First Minister and chief antagonist in the push for Scottish independence.

With the referendum date now pencilled in for 2014, who exactly is Alex Salmond, what do the SNP want and how will it all play out?

Famously protective of his private life, Alex Salmond was born in Linlithgow, Scotland and is married with no children.  Able to trace his ancestry to before the 1707 Acts of Union between England and Scotland, Salmond studied economics and history at the University of Saint Andrews.  Upon graduation, he pursued a career as an economist.

Unlike his private life, much more is known about Salmond’s political beliefs.  As a fierce left-wing supporter of Scottish independence, Salmond’s political career almost ended spectacularly early when he was suspended from the SNP due to his support and involvement in the radical socialist republican 79 Group.  As can be seen from this song the group are hardly politically liberal, open minded election material.  However, by 1987, Salmond had been able to claw his way back into the SNP, defeating the Conservative MP Albert McQuarrie in a local election.  It is here that his stratospheric rise through the ranks of the SNP began.

Appointed as SNP Deputy Leader in 1987, Salmond took advantage of the power vacuum within the party in 1990 by standing for and winning the leadership election.  Throughout the 1990s he was heavily critical of Westminster whilst maintaining heavy involvement in supporting policies promoting Scottish devolution.  However, by 1999 Salmond had resigned after facing a virtual media blackout, heavy criticism and the full force of Westminster for a number of political blunders including opposing the NATO bombing of Serbia through likening it to the Nazi German bombing of Glasgow.

Despite this, it was in 2004 that Alex Salmond had once again clawed his way back into the SNP and public eye.  Having entered into the 2004 SNP leadership battle, Salmond emerged victorious with a majority of around 75%.  Since then, he has overseen the continued electoral success of the SNP with these successes culminating in the 2010 general election in which the SNP emerged victorious within the Scottish Parliament.  Armed with a sizeable majority, the SNP have promised to hold a referendum on Scottish independence; the desired ‘yes’ vote being their final hurdle in a bid to become independent of the United Kingdom.  Arguably, this video explains the issue most succinctly.

Currently, the main three political parties of Westminster are opposed to Scottish independence.  In a rare display of unity, both David Cameron and Ed Milliband have spoken out against Alex Salmond, claiming that Scottish independence would profoundly affect the British Isles and considerably weaken the political union.  Both political leaders have also stated that independence would be ‘bad’ for the UK economy, especially if Scotland were to abandon Sterling and adopt the Euro.

How the independence referendum will play out is unknown.  All current indicators appear to support the conclusion that if a referendum were to be taken today the idea of an independent Scotland would be rejected by the population; Westminster arguably pushing an early referendum for this precise reason.  There is no doubt that Britain would be weaker should the union be broken.  Not only would the breakaway of Scotland throw the future of the remaining Union into doubt, but additionally there would be significant headaches for politicians involved in discussion over the military, economic policies and border controls.

It is also highly likely that whatever the result it will destroy the losing political party.  For the ruling Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition a defeat would likely be the final nail in a coffin for a political relationship that has already suffered heavily from the continuing slew of poor economic data, high unemployment and widespread public discontent with severe budget cuts.  On the other hand, for the SNP a defeat would signal the end of a party which does not appear to have much policy and substance past opposition to Westminster, support for independence and bribery of the population via free prescriptions and non-existent university fees.

And despite these problems, should Scotland become independent it must be remembered that the politicians will have a responsibility for at least a small portion of the often talked about and over-hyped national debt – all £1 trillion of it.  For a country with an economy only totalling £140bn this would be a substantial burden.  After independence the SNP would no doubt soon realise that money is no longer channelled from the wealthy South East of England towards a deprived and desolate Glasgow City.  The English taxpayer would no longer be responsible for funding expensive Scottish nationalism and Scotland would no longer have the benefit of a highly-trained and professional army, paid for and maintained by Westminster.

How sustainable are those free prescriptions and subsidised university fees now?

The New World Order

Largely ignored by the mainstream media, a recent Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) report has shown that in terms of the world economic league table rankings, Brazil overtook the UK in 2011 to become the world’s sixth largest economy.  Whilst disappointing for Britain, other key European countries suffered a similar fate.  By 2020 Germany, Italy and France are also expected to slide significantly down the league table, having been overtaken by the rapidly emerging Asian ‘tigers’ and BRIC countries.  Aside from the obvious dent to national pride and international economic influence, what does the report mean for the future of the United Kingdom, Europe and the Western world?

When considering Western decline, most concerning for Europe, America and Japan is the spectacular rise of two BRIC countries; Russia and China.  Largely reliant on natural resource exploitation for predicted future growth, Russia is both a past adversary of the West and a likely future one.  Recent Russian defence spending has focused on enlarging the armed forces to cope with high unemployment, joint military manoeuvres with China and an increasingly bombastic international role culminating in the now largely forgotten 2008 invasion of Georgia.

Unlike Russia, China is not particularly resource rich.  Despite this, the official Chinese military budget has increased by nearly 200% since 2001; this being fuelled by exceptional double-digit economic growth throughout the decade.  Unofficially, the budget is rumoured to have increased by an even larger amount.  This budget amplification has enabled the Chinese to design and produce advanced stealth fighters, create a naval base in the Seychelles to directly threaten India and purchase rusting Russian aircraft carriers.  Again, similar to Russia, China has become increasingly vocal within international politics by peddling ludicrous territorial water claims and adopting an ever more offensive posture with regards to Taiwan.

Will the Chinese Army become a common sight aound the globe like the US Army is today?

When Russian and Chinese investment is contrasted with severe Western military budget cuts (including those recently announced by the United States) and combined with increased international posturing, commentators are rightfully concerned that the West faces a tough choice; to either submit to the new economic powerhouses or invest in the military and suffer from increased debts and economic stagnation.  Furthermore, it is a certainty that at some point this century the United Nations Security Council will have to be overhauled to reflect modern day politics; this likely costing the West dear in terms of their previously almost unrivalled control of international affairs.

Faced with the CEBR report, continued Chinese and Russian intransigence combined with military expansion, a stubborn economic financial crisis and a continuous slew of disappointing economic data it would be rational for Western politicians to panic at the prospect of a century increasingly dominated by a series of unstable, unmanageable and untested countries.  Especially countries ever more flush with cash and lacking a fondness for quaint European traditions, American excess or Japanese electronic domination.

However, this predictable panic is often unnecessary.  Since 1945, the UK has been suffering from a slow international decline as the Empire has been gradually disbanded; a direct result of having fought and shouldering the burden of two devastating world wars.  Despite such decline, this has not meant an end to peace and prosperity for the British people.  Instead, decline has been ‘managed’ to ensure that aside from brief periods in history, British military power and influence around the globe has remained constant, national security has not been threatened and living standards have generally increased, decade after decade.

If managed correctly, many commentators are confident that gradual Western economic decline is not necessarily the doomsday scenario that scaremongers predict.  Whilst international politics and conflict is inherently difficult to predict, unbiased observers are able to see that economic decline does not always correlate with a demise in international influence, foreign policy or military power.  Provided that investment is made in the right areas, the British – and in some respects, Western – role in the world as nations of highly educated and skilled designers, service sector workers, high-end manufacturers and engineers can only complement non-Western economic growth.  Indeed, the rapidly growing countries of Asia and Latin America need our skills and expertise as much as we need their natural resources and mass produced factory goods.

Whilst the CERB report is undoubtedly a blow to British and Western visions of self-importance, I can still see one reason within the report to be cheerful.  Apparently, should the predictions turn out to be accurate the British rate of economic decline will not be as quick as that of our closest continental neighbour and age old national adversary, France.  By 2020, the United Kingdom will have come from behind to beat the French to eighth in the global pecking order, and by quite a considerable margin too.  Now that is a cause for celebration.  Someone pass the Chardonnay…