SO, DONALD Trump didn’t get his own way on the offshore wind farm in Aberdeen Bay and has stomped out of his would-be millionaires’ playground taking his ball with him.
Again. After losing his court battle against the Scottish Government’s decision to approve the £230 million 11-turbine project, the tycoon has withdrawn the planning application for a second golf course at the Menie estate on the north-east coast and put his proposed luxury hotel on hold, leaving local residents in the worst possible position: without either the magnificent shifting sand dunes which have been stabilised to create Foveran Links or the economic benefits the sacrifice of the the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) was supposed to deliver. To rub their noses in it, Trump appears to have transferred his affections, and his wallet, to County Clare in Ireland, where he has bought the Doonbeg golf resort and is dangling the familiar carrot of a multi-million pound bonanza.
Worse still, Trump’s parting shot was his cheapest yet, apparently comparing the destruction wreaked by wind farms to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.
Yet the only real surprise is that anyone can still muster any sense of outrage. Trump has proved time and again that the only weapons in his rhetorical armoury are insults and intimidation. When it comes to bluff, bluster and bullying he wrote the manual, which makes it all the more galling that Alex Salmond – who was last week proclaiming his hound-like ability to sniff out such traits – was so utterly taken in by him. But then, Salmond has always loved his big beasts, cosying up to business players such as Fred Goodwin and Rupert Murdoch. And you can’t get much bigger than Trump, with his carefully constructed hair, his New York accent and his fistful of dollars. No wonder Salmond was dazzled. No wonder he schmoozed the real estate magnate, while neglecting local people who had been threatened with compulsory purchase orders.
Not that he was the only one to fall under Trump’s spell. It has been suggested, with the benefit of hindsight, that the battle over Trump’s International Golf Links was, from the outset, a story of David and Goliath: the arrogant American pitted against the plucky little community. In reality, just as in Local Hero, the film about a US oil company’s attempt to buy up a Scottish village so it can build a refinery, many ordinary people initially bought into the idea that the infringement of the SSSI was justified if it brought greater prosperity to the region. Who wouldn’t be tempted by the lure of a £1 billion investment and 6,000 jobs?
And if someone else had been behind the plan, perhaps some kind of balance between the environment and the economy could have been achieved. As land reform expert Andy Wightman has pointed out, another wealthy American company financed a golf course wholly within Machrihanish Dunes (also an SSSI), but a sensitivity to the landscape and a willingness to work with Scottish Natural Heritage meant disruption was kept to a minimum and the wildlife flourished.
Despite his avowed love of his mother’s native land, Trump was never going to be a stargazer in the mould of Burt Lancaster’s character Felix Happer or even a pragmatist willing to compromise to keep those opposed to his plans on board. It became clear his strategy was either to bulldoze his way through obstacles or flounce off like a prima donna. As Anthony Baxter’s documentary You’ve Been Trumped exposed, his response to anyone who disagreed with him was to brand them “fools” or “morons”. If any more evidence of his ego and lack of personal insight were needed, one need only look at his attempt to rename the dunes “the Great Dunes of Scotland” and his failure to grasp the hypocrisy of whining on about the environmental impact of wind farms when you’ve laid waste to a wilderness, trapping residents behind mounds of earth, their views restricted by lines of sitka spruce.
Despite Trump’s contempt for ordinary people, Salmond appears to have bent over backwards to appease him, tolerating his many outbursts and smoothing his ruffled feathers. And what did he get in return? A big fat nothing. Indeed, Trump seems to have gone out of his way to make life difficult, throwing his toys out of the pram at the slightest provocation. When Salmond sought his endorsement of the decision to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, Trump refused to co-operate, as was his right. And when Salmond’s government, which is committed to the growth in renewables, backed the proposal for the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre site he accused him of seeking revenge and of betraying an earlier assurance that the project would not get the go-ahead.
Today, almost nine years after the resort was first mooted, a mere £25m is thought to have been invested and 200 jobs created and, with Trump focusing on Ireland, there is no reason to believe that will change unless the SNP’s decision is overturned.
The government is right to stand its ground now, even though the wind farm will create just 30 jobs compared to Trump’s promised thousands. No individual, however wealthy, can be allowed to dictate a country’s energy policy. It’s just a shame our politicians were so susceptible to greed and gullibility when Trump first approached them. And that they took so long to realise that the price they were expected to pay for his vanity project was the loss of their integrity and the surrender of their political control. «