IT is better to prove him wrong than to take the moral high ground, which may well be built on shaky ground argues Brian Wilson
It really is bad luck. For decades, we’ve awaited a White House candidate with Scottish roots so we could match bragging rights with the Irish. Now the genuine article has appeared and he’s treated like the embarrassing uncle at a wedding.
I refer, of course, to Donald John Trump, or Domhnall Iain in the language of his late mother’s native isle. Presidential candidates, like Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, had to workhard to find Irish cousins but you can bump into Domhnall Iain’s any day of the week, and good people they are too.
Trump has blotted his copybook with outlandish remarks about Muslims. The only surprise is that anyone should be surprised. Donald-watchers knew for decades what he is capable of yet that did not stop him being treated in some quarters – it’s Christmas, so no names – with an obsequience normally reserved for that other vaunted Scot, Rupert Murdoch.
Not only is Domhnall Iain a 50 per cent Gael, he attributes his flair for “showmanship” to a Lewis mother, Mary MacLeod, who emigrated in the 1930s and got hitched to a property developer of Swedish parentage. Being anti-immigration in a country largely composed of immigrants is tricky except for those with short memories.
In his 1987 autobiography, Trump observed that Mary had “a flair for the dramatic and the grand… My mother loves splendour and magnificence while my father gets excited only by competence and efficiency”. That was why he split from his father’s real estate business and branched out into splendour, magnificence and ultimately Turnberry Hotel.
However, Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, along with 500,000 others, thinks Trump should be banned from entering the United Kingdom. Ms Ahmed-Sheikh is the SNP’s spokeswoman on trade and investment – surely a satirical appointment – who presumably believes that an individual unfit to enter the country is also unfit to invest in it.
Now, I have no time for Trump or his opinions, real or manufactured. But anyone wanting to ban him from Scotland has missed a few opportunities. Like when he was destroying an SSSI at Balmedie. Or making grossly offensive remarks about local residents who opposed him. Those interested in the real story must see Anthony Baxter’s excellent film, You’ve Been Trumped.
Throughout that saga, Trump enjoyed the sycophancy of the Scottish Government – a far cry from banning him. Even when he bought Turnberry last year, Trump was feted by the new Scottish Establishment, rather than reviled for his views.
Perhaps there is a secret ethical investment committee in Edinburgh. Wanting a wall to keep out Mexicans on grounds that they are “rapists, drug-dealers and criminals” is just about OK. Mocking a reporter by simulating his physical disability in response to an awkward question is not worth a committee meeting. But mention Muslims and the SNP want him banned from the UK. Their moral compass seems confused.
The problem, which somebody should explain to Ms Ahmed-Sheikh and her patrons, is that once you start banning people for non-violent opinions, it’s difficult to know where to stop. Indeed, the prerequisite for being trade and investment supremo in any government or party is the ability to hold one’s nose and get on with business.
Hot-foot from denouncing Trump as a pariah, Ms Ahmed-Sheikh accompanied his former best pal to Iran in search of, er, trade and investment, which rather confirms my point. While our intrepid emissaries were in Teheran, a report to the UN asserted that their hosts execute more people than any other country in the world. Iran’s legal code, particularly towards women, makes Trump a lily-livered liberal by comparison.
Yet the inevitable consequence of seeking commercial links will be to invite Iran’s ruling elite to visit us, to throw banquets in their honour and generally skirt round inconvenient truths. The SNP is also very keen on the Qataris, presumably on the grounds that they have loads of gas-fired money to invest, rather than in deference to their industrial relations policy.
So where does this all lead us? Perhaps it should be to the New Year resolution that we stop wanting to ban or censor people for holding opinions different to “our” own. Personally, I would welcome a visit from Trump with an opportunity to challenge his views. Just as I would work with him to salvage Turnberry’s status as an Open venue, rather than destroy it, and do some much-needed good for the Ayrshire economy at the same time.
As in any developed country, the legacy of such ethical contradictions is all around us. Glasgow’s wealth was built on slavery and tobacco. Should we change the names of Oswald and Tobago Streets? To the American labour movement, Andrew Carnegie was a brute of an employer who used a private army to break a strike. Should we close the halls and libraries which bear his name?
Statues are obvious targets. If the politically correct succeed in removing Cecil Rhodes from Oxford University, can we doubt that there will soon be motions at Holyrood to emulate this feat? There is scarcely a stone-cast Victorian plutocrat or military hero of the colonial age who would withstand the rigours of scrutiny by Ms Ahmed-Sheikh and her colleagues.
The alternatives would be to relax and start learning from history instead of trying to deny it and to disagree with populist ranters rather than wanting to ban them for the sake of a headline. We might also apologise occasionally for historic wrongs (as Justin Trudeau has, so admirably, done to native Canadians) rather than pretending it wisnae’ us.
And, yes, sometimes it is necessary to do business with the sort of person you would rather not shake hands with. That’s the nature of trade and investment.
But please then spare us the hypocrisy of the high moral ground. You don’t have to like Donald Trump to do business with him any more than you need to like Iran, Qatar or a few others.
And we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that somewhere deep down, there must still be good Hebridean genes fighting to get out.