Trumping over the Dunes
‘Politics, media, police,’ said the young man with the jagged haircut. ‘Is this the first institutional failure of post-devolution Scotland?’ The panellists, squeezed round the desks of Committee Room One in the Scottish Parliament, wriggled a bit and looked pained. It’s too soon, one said, to know what’s going to happen in the long run. This story has a lot further still to go. But there must have been what he called ‘a failing of institutional Scotland’ when the Trump Organisation started building ‘the world’s greatest golf course’ on the dunes and marram grass of Menie, just up the coast from Aberdeen.
Scientists and environmentalists were dead against it, and so were most of the people who live there. Especially Michael Forbes, whose smallholding sits right in the sightlines of the planned hotel, and whom Trump accused – all over the Scottish media – of living in ‘disgusting conditions’ and ‘a pig-like atmosphere’. ‘I never throw things away, you never know when they will come in handy,’ Forbes told one interviewer. ‘I’ve voted SNP for 35 years but I won’t be voting for them again.’
The dunes on the beaches north of Aberdeen are famously beautiful and rich in unusual natural forms: ‘our Amazonian rainforest’, in the words of Jim Hanson, a geomorphologist at the University of Glasgow. Trump, however, has been after a site in Scotland for a long time, partly because it’s ‘the Birthplace of Golf’, but also as a tribute to his mother, who was born on the Isle of Lewis. Six years ago he bought the Menie estate, saying he planned to invest around a billion pounds in it, creating hundreds of local jobs. The local council turned down his planning application but the Scottish government called it in, arguing that the likely economic benefits outweighed the environmental worries. Trump jetted into Aberdeen Airport, striding on the sands like they were shortbread, flanked by pipers in Highland dress.
The local establishment fell over itself to welcome him. ‘He is warm, entertaining, enviably ambitious and very funny,’ the Press and Journalfawned. The Business School at Robert Gordon University awarded him an honorary degree. After a sceptical film maker (English, but with a Scottish mother: ‘I feel like Trump whenever I say that’) tried to interview the head of security at the building site, he was detained by Grampian Police.
So far, Anthony Baxter’s finished film – a feature-length documentary called You’ve Been Trumped – has picked up awards at festivals across the world, but not a distributor or a showing on television. Patrick Harvie, the Green MSP for Glasgow, organised a screening at Holyrood last week, with a performance from the folk singer Karine Polwart (‘Laden with lust and expensive lies/But the haar will tumble in tae cover your eyes’) and a Q and A afterwards. But the main idea was to get people set for the morning after, when Trump was due to appear in the chamber, ‘as an investor with a significant stake in Scotland’, to give evidence to the Scottish government’s inquiry into its renewable-energy targets: the aim is to generate enough electricity to meet consumption by 2020. And sure enough, there he was, at 10 a.m. sharp on Wednesday morning, comb-marks clearly visible, looking and sounding just like he does on TV.
The question is the exploitation of wind-power. There is, clearly, a lot of wind in Scotland: it’s an infinite – if unreliable – resource. But a group called Communities Against Turbines Scotland is concerned about the ‘Klondike rush’ to invest in wind, despite complaints about noise and stress and destruction of wildlife, such as the bats who – one CATS man says – get all the air sucked out of their lungs. Trump agrees with them, and has flown in on his 757 – gold-plated seatbelts, I saw on YouTube – to support them in their struggle against ‘these horrible, horrible structures’, ugly and riddled with problems, yet one of the more attainable renewable sources to have been developed so far. Trump says the ruined views will ‘decimate the tourism industry… It’ll look like Disneyland, but a bad version… If you pursue this goal of these monsters all over Scotland, Scotland will go broke.’ Because if Scotland invests in windfarms, Trump will stop investing in Scotland: ‘I AM the evidence!’ he roared.
Trump is mostly against one wind farm in particular, an experimental test facility, to sit a mile or so offshore from his land. He believes that the turbines will ruin the views from his five-star – as yet unbuilt – hotel. He’s fallen out with Alex Salmond over it, claiming that the first minister ‘misled’ him with assurances that, for MoD reasons, no wind farm would ever be built there. ‘He’s denying everything today,’ Trump said on Wednesday, when asked to explain Salmond’s claim that the conversations never happened. A man in the public gallery leaned back to show off a T-shirt that said: ‘I hate bullies and liars.’ Security hurried over and told him to button up.
Susan Munro is one of the Menie residents featured in Baxter’s film. We see smoking her cigarettes ever harder as the land outside her kitchen window is flattened and laid waste. She was on the panel at the Holyrood screening, updating the audience on recent activity at the building works. A car park appears to be being built round three sides of her house. The excavations have wrecked the ground, she says, leaving it agriculturally useless and prone to floods. On the way out, I asked her how she felt about the prospective wind-turbines, as if she hasn’t had enough to deal with. ‘I’m not bothered one way or another,’ she said. ‘You can’t even see the sea from my house, so they’re not going to bother me.’
Development of the hotel, the holiday villas and timeshare apartments are still on hold, possibly indefinitely: Trump says he’s waiting to hear about ‘the windmills’ before he goes ahead. You’ve Been Trumped will be showing at Scottish cinemas in the summer, to coincide with the grand opening of the golf course in July.