Photo: Protestors march on Donald Trump’s half-built golf course at Menie, Aberdeenshire, 2010. Copyright Aaron Sneddon, used with permission.
Scotland’s fight against Trump wasn’t about his bulging personality, but corporate power.
Earlier this year Scotland was engaged, if not enthralled, in one of the more progressive parliamentary election campaigns in the wee Parliament’s short history.
At a BBC debate held in March the chair filled out the last few minutes with the apparently obligatory ‘funny question’. The topic: Donald Trump; specifically, what would you do if he phoned you as First Minister?
The speakers, from UKIP to the Greens and everyone in between, were falling over each other to point out just how much they hated Trump.
“Get off my phone”, barked Willie Rennie (Liberal). “Can I have fries with that”, smirked Ruth Cameron (Conservative). “I’m on the other line sorry” retorted Nicola Sturgeon (SNP). Patrick Harvie of the Greens said he’d be speechless and even UKIP’s candidate was scornful. Adopting a somewhat more serious tone Labour’s Kezia Dugdale said she’d get straight to the point: “I’d tell him to stop preaching hate.”
Their chorus was perfectly in tune. The message: Scotland hates bigots and bullies. Scotland hates bigots and bullies so much most of them didn’t event think it was worth taking the question seriously.
The Scottish people do indeed have a strong record of calling out this “racist, xenophobic, misoginistic, odous man”, to quote Patrick Harvie, and we should celebrate this. But it’s high time we also reminded ourselves of how we got here: Scots had to stand up to Trump because Scottish leaders courted him, invited him over, rolled out the red carpet, surrounded him with sycophantic journalists and cut out people and due process to let him have his way.
We had to do something.
So what exactly did Trump do to fall so far out of favour with Scotland?
It began ten years ago when Trump had a series of meetings with the then First Minister, Labour’s Jack McConnell. Trump was making plans to build a vast new golf course on the Menie Estate just north of Aberdeen. The Scottish Government wanted to show the world the country was open for business, and making friends with Trump seemed a pretty canny way to do it.
The plans for Menie were unveiled in 2007 as the SNP took over the Scottish Goverment from Labour. Trump was on the offensive describing his plans with almost religious gusto: it would be “a source of pride for both Aberdeenshire and Scotland for many generations”.
He visited the Isle of Lewis to see the house his mother grew up in (spending a total of 97 seconds inside the house, according to an amused Guardian correspondent) and accepted a role as a “GlobalScot”, a Government funded club for business people connected with Scotland. Trump was in.
1. Aberdeenshire Councillors reject Trump’s plans
Labour and SNP Scottish Governments were openly enthusiatic about Trumps plans. But in Aberdeenshire the local council wasn’t so sure.
There was widespread evidence of severe environmental damage resulting from his proposed two golf courses, hotel and apartment complex, and his claim that the project would create “thousands of jobs” didn’t stack up to much scrutiny.
Small wonder then that Aberdeenshire Council’s planning committee rejected the tycoon’s proposal, albeit by a margin of 1 vote, in 2007.
A brave act in the face of aggressive lobbying by national government and Trump’s global business organisation.
If Aberdeenshire Council was brave, what happened next left a sour taste. The plans were ‘brought in’ by the Scottish Government, a procedure intended for major developments of national importance, and approved the Government in 2008. The Council had been overrulled.
The new First Minister, the SNP’s Alex Salmond said the destruction of the local environment was justified by the wide array of benefits Trump’s arrival would bring to the North East of Scotland.
Yet very shortly after construction began Trump put the brakes on. A wind farm development some miles offshore was announced. Trump said it would spoil the view from his golf course, and insisted he wouldn’t complete his plans if the renewable energy scheme went ahead. Scotland would have to choose between being pals with Donald Trump and developing clean energy.
2. Molly Forbes takes Trump to court
Enter the residents of Menie.
Quite a lot of people lived on the land adjacent to Trump’s planned new resort and Trump wanted rid of them. First he tried paying them off. Then he tried slandering them and appeared to encourage polic intimidation. Legal action was attempted. The final solution was to plant huge hedges and build mounds of earth around people’s houses to shield them from view.
Susan Munroe and David Milne saw their local area transformed by construction work. Trump threatened to take Milne to court claiming that, based on outdated maps, that his shed was on Trump’s land.
The residents did not take any of this lightly.
Molly Forbes, now 92, lost her water supply when Trump’s construction team showed up, and it hasn’t ever returned. She has attempted taking him to court on behalf of the local people but lost the case due to a technicality and in 2010 was asked to pay £50,000 in court fees.
3. Don’t mess with Michael Forbes
Trump repeatedly vilified local farmer Michael Forbes, calling him a “pig”. Forbes hit back by daubing the walls of him barns, which overlooked his new course, with slogans like “NO MORE TRUMP LIES” and hosting campaigning events and local art shows in on the farm.
4. Tripping Up Trump
Aberdeenshire residents got organised through the brilliant ‘Tripping Up Trump’ campaign targeting the local council and national government over the plans.
When the Aberdeen’s Press & Journal newspaper, long criticised for being in the pocket of business, refused to cover their efforts they launched their own news-sheet ‘Menie Voices’ in 2010.
5. University Principal tears up his degree
Another long-time best friend of Scottish big business was Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University. They saw Trump as a top notch publicity opportunity, and duly awarded him an honorary degree in 2010.
However the ceremony didn’t quite go to plan. In full view of the Scottish media and alongside Tripping Up Trump protesters gathered outside, former RGU Principal Dr. David Kennedy handed back his honorary degree marked NOT WANTED.
He told the BBC: “I don’t wish to have an honorary degree from a university which admires and promotes a person such as Donald Trump… [He] claims to be brutal and tough, he claims that one cannot be too greedy, he boasts about the number of people he has fired… These are not the qualities that I admire nor with which I wish to be associated and that is why I am returning my honorary degree.”
6. Environmental groups condemn Trump’s plans
Back in 2007 Scottish environmental organisations were pretty clear about their opposition to Trump’s development, which planned to tear up a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Menie.
Their opposition only got louder as his plans advanced. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, not known for their love for wind farms, sided with the renewable energy industry in 2012 when Trump took arms against the proposed wind-farm development nearbye.
7. The Wightman Report
Bemused at the total lack of any economic analysis of the plans for the Menie estate, land rights campaigner and now Green MSP Andy Wightman produced his own study about Trump’s project in 2011.
His conclusions were damning:
“Perhaps this vanity project will indeed end in tears on a rock of hubris and recrimination. If it does, at least the long suffering residents of the Menie Estate will be able to live in peace once more and those responsible for bringing about this saga can reflect on their role and consider whether this is in fact the kind of sustainable development we want in the new Scotland.”
8. The march on Trump’s golf course
Aberdeenshire residents wanted to reclaim the site and show solidarity with local residents whose homes were being wrecked.
In 2011 the Tripping Up Trump campaign organised an iconic rally to the site: ‘The March of Menie’, concluding with tea and cake at Michael Forbes’ farm.
9. Michael Forbes voted man of the year
In 2012 Scots trolled Trump by launching a campaign to see Michael Forbes granted the publicly-voted Glenfiddich ‘Spirit of Scotland award’. He won by some margin.
10. Queen rock legend joins the campaign: “Nothing really matters – but me”
When astronomer and rock legend Brian May expressed him sympathies for the campaign in 2012 Tripping Up Trump seized the opportunity and got permission to record their own version of Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s wonderful.
The video features a puppet of Donald Trump who has his own Twitter feed. Puppet Trump has vigilantly followed Trump on his many self-agrandising visits to Scotland.
11. A boring movie: “You’ve Been Trumped”
The battle fought at Menie and Aberdeen was recorded by local film-maker Anthony Baxter in ‘You’ve Been Trumped’.vThe movie was released in 2012 and is a damning indictment of national decision makers, the police, and Trump’s own organisation.
Arrested during the course of filming, Baxter’s movie brought local people’s side of the story to audiences outside the North East of Scotland. Trump said he heard it was “boring”. It’s not.
Baxter released a sequel: You’ve Been Trumped Too, broadcasting it live on Facebook for the first time on Thursday. Watch it here.
12. MSP gives Trump the finger in Parliament
As the SNP’s enthusiasm for Trumps plans began to receive long-overdue national scrutiny, the Conservative chair of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee of the Scottish Parliament invited the man himself to speak to Parliament in 2012.
Never one to pass up an opportunity for a show, Trump said yes.
At the Committee hearing, when asked what evidence he could provide to back his claim that ‘tourists didn’t like wind turbines’ Trump replied (to the sound of derisory laughter): “I am the evidence.”
After the meeting Green MSP Patrick Harvie gave trump a two fingered salute, which must have upset him as Trump then lodged a formal complaint with the Parliament standards body – not for his hand gesture – but over a tweet referencing Monty Python’s Life of Brian which Trump claimed was blasphemous.
Unsurprisingly, Harvie emerged unscathed.
13. Protester makes Trump’s hair stand on end
When Trump left the Parliament building to escape in his car he was greeted with a wall of anti- and pro- wind power protesters.
One of the later group was a supremely well prepared. Donning an anti-Trump t-shirt carrying the slogan “WIGS: Wind is Good Scotland” the activist held a staticly charged party balloon over Trump’s comb-over. You’ll have to click through to the Daily Mail to see the photos (sorry).
14. Pro-green energy protesters meet Trump with ‘near riot’
The Guardian’s Severin Carrell described the scene outside the Parliament that day as a ‘near riot’. But for most of the morning the atmosphere was good natured with pro-green energy activists dressed as wind-turbines taking the opportunity to remind Trump that there was more at stake here than his hotel businesses.
15. Scottish government stands up for clean energy
The more publicity Trump received the less his plans seemed to stack up, and activists had been doing an exellent job of making sure he was getting lots of negative publicity.
Scotland was beginning to wake up to Trump’s reprehensible rhetoric and eventually the Scottish Government started sticking up for their renewable energy plans – and not Trump’s golf course.
Trump’s increasingly desperate fight against the wind scheme went as far as the UK’s supreme court, where he lost, and announced he was moving his money elsewhere.
Alex Salmond, former friend of trump and now former First Minister, branded Trump “three times a loser”, referring to Trump’s repeated defeats in the Scottish and Supreme courts.
One golf course was built, but a major apartment complex and second course were to be shelved. Campaigners had scored a hugely significant victory.
16. Golf turns against Trump
Frustrated that bullying had failed to deliver him a windmill-free skyline at Menie, Trump purchased the world famous Turnberry course in Ayshire in 2014, promising millions of dollars of investment.
The course had hosted golf’s most prestigous tournament, the Open Championship, on a number of occasions and was next expected to host it in 2020. Ownership of Turnberry should have allowed him an easy ticket to the top of golf.
But golf’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (to give you an idea of how conservative they are, women have only been admitted as members since 2014) couldn’t stomach Trump’s racist and sexist comments. In December 2015 they quietly let it be known that the Open wouldn’t be coming to Trump’s patch whilst he owned it.
17. Sturgeon revokes Trump’s GlobalScot status
As Trump’s presidential campaign gathered steam his palatability to Scottish politicians took a dive. In late 2015 his proposed ban on muslims entering the United States led to widespread outcry in the UK.
When he first arrived in Scotland Scottish elites were fighting over each other to accommodate him in their institutions. No longer. Trump was now toxic.
Amid high-profile popular pressure First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revoked his Scottish business ambassador ‘GlobalScot’ status.
18. Trump is stripped of his RGU honary degree
Remember act number 5? Scotland did.
Begun by Suzanne Kelly from the blog Aberdeen Voice, a petition calling for called for Robert Gordon University to take the Scottish Government’s lead and strip him of their honours receieved 80,000 names.
The University responded in a matter of days, revoking his degree.
19. MPs debate banning Trump from the UK
Prompted by Trumps call to ban Muslims from entering the Unites States, the aforementioned Aberdeen Voice started a UK Parliament petition calling for Donald Trump to be banned from entering the UK.
The petition gained over half a million signatures requiring MPs to hold a debate on the issue which they duly did in January 2016.
20. Opulent occupation
In the new year of 2016 Trump was busy tallying up Republican party delegates, and Scots were busy ensuring opposition to him remained in the news at home.
Upstart Scottish socialists RISE did the only sensible thing anyone could do in the face of Trump’s accelerating bandwagon and occupied his hotel at Menie in Aberdeenshire.
21. Trump: visit our mosques
As the mayor of London invited Trump to visit the parts of London he said were ‘too dangerous to visit’, a petition gained 18,000 names inviting Trump to visit the Scottish capital and visit Edinburgh mosques to learn about Islam.
He didn’t accept.
22. Stand up to Racism
The day after the UK voted to leave the European Union Trump took a break from his presidential run to visit his golf courses and lecture us about European multinational cooperation.
In Aberdeenshire his course was invaded by protesters waving the flag of Mexico, taunting him over his incendiary remarks about the country.
Over in Ayrshire a huge ‘Stand up to Racism’ rally marched on his course at Turnberry.
23. New merchandise
At Turnberry, poised to began his speech to a gaggle of specially invited journalists, Trump was interrupted by comedian Lee Nelson who popped up in front of the podium and announced Trump Turnberry’s new official merchandise.
Nelson was gently removed from the site, not before he scatted a barrel of the balls around Trump’s feet. Trump was forced to deliver his speech surrounded by golf balls emblazened with tiny swastikas. His presence in Scotland had descended into farce.
24. Trump is a cunt
Scottish comedian Jane Godley saw this visit as an excellent chance to have the last word on Donald Trump’s war on Scotland.
While Trump’s organisation entertained guests inside his Turnberry hotel Godley turned up outside wearing a wind-swept expression and a placard reading TRUMP IS A CUNT (this is, incidentally, the title of her current stand-up tour). Some beautiful t-shirts have also been designed to mark the occasion.
25. Flying the flag for Mexico
The last word must in fact go to the residents of Menie. Ten years ago they were the object of his wrath in rural Aberdeenshire. Today Trump’s vile language takes aim at whole nations and ethnic groups. Solidarity crosses these boundaries.
The next Donald Trump?
A lot of people in the UK have spent the last year asking “what kind of a people would allow such a man into power?”
You don’t have to look far to see how this could happen, because it happened in Scotland, and it is still happening. Trump’s brand is still emblazoned on the golf courses of Scotland, placed there with the warmly given support of two succesive First Ministers.
At that same BBC debate back in March Labour leader Kez Dugdale concluded:
“I’m sure Nicola [Sturgeon] regrets it now but all she was trying to do was bring investment and jobs to Scotland. It’s just a shame it had to be from a character like that.”
Dugdale and Sturgeon would have us believe that they were ‘duped’ by some con artist. In reality our leaders were cosying up to corporate power, gambling that it would pay off. And they haven’t learnt their lesson.
This wasn’t just a story about a reprehensible American tycoon and those who fought against him. It is also a story about those who let him have his way.
Scotland’s business and political elites must take responsibility for letting him destroy communities and lives in Aberdeenshire.
Our universities continue to give honours to dubious billionaires; golf courses are still owned by a wealthy, sexist elite; hate-filled, tory-owned newspapers fill control our media; and the language of big business still dominates the political agenda, with our Government in Edinburgh pledging to cut business rates, aviation tax, and lobbying for billions in subsidies for north sea oil.
Until we end our love affair with unfettered big business there will be many more Donald Trumps to come.
This article was updated on 20 Jan 2017. Many thanks to those who offered corrections and additional info, and a special thanks to the photographers for letting us use their excellent pictures.
Originally posted on Bright Green.
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