Is the inflatable Donald a step too far? As President Trump gets ready for his controversial UK visit, protesters are also preparing for massive demonstrations in London, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Media attention has focused on the nappy-clad, mobile phone-wielding giant orange baby balloon version of Trump that will float above the Commons for two hours on Friday, but the man who cages babies is unlikely to see it – in London.
Upon landing, the Donald will be whisked off for a swanky dinner at Blenheim Palace before arriving at the US ambassador’s residence in London for an overnight stay. Next day he’s off to inspect a military base, then Chequers for a working lunch, a meet and greet with the Queen at Windsor Castle, before a jet north to spend a relaxing weekend in Scotland.
The nerve of the man is virtually an incitement to protest on its own – but is protest worthwhile? There has been much hand-wringing in the London press about protests against the man which inadvertently disrespect the Office of President and the USA itself. Yet Scots cultural tradition is very strong on ignoring the blandishments of high office and judging the man who stands below. A Man’s a Man is effectively Scotland’s national anthem and it pulls no punches: “Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord, Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that, Tho’ hundreds worship at his word, He’s but a coof for a’ that”.
That verse of Burns’ famous poem ends: “The man o’ independent mind, He looks an’ laughs at a’ that”.
Which kind of hands the protest baton to us – for two good reasons.
First, an extra layer of democratic outrage will be laid on the impending Trump visit tomorrow when his administration is likely to miss the legal deadline for reuniting families separated under his “zero tolerance” policy at the US-Mexican border. Trump has approved the use of DNA tests on infants and children to “confirm parentage quickly and accurately” – a move the Refugee and Immigrant Centre for Education and Legal Services in Texas has called the “grossest violation of human rights”.
While these children were still in cages, ordinary Americans didn’t shirk from colourful, shaming protests. The policy was only reversed when members of Trump’s government were targeted personally. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had to cut short a working dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Washington after protesters shouted, “Shame!” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant and White House adviser Stephen Miller was barracked as he tried to dine in a Mexican eatery in Washington. If Americans are ready to protest against their own president’s abuse of human rights, do we not have a moral obligation to do the same? Because protesting against Trump is what Scots do.
In 2012, Aberdeenshire farmer Michael Forbes was crowned Scot of the Year in the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards after starring in You’ve been Trumped, a documentary by Montrose-born Anthony Baxter. Forbes clinched the award – given to the Scot who “has made the greatest impact in furthering Scotland’s reputation” – after refusing to sell his 23-acre property to Trump’s massive Aberdeen golf resort despite having his water cut off and an earth wall constructed around the house. A furious Trump demanded a boycott of Glenfiddich, which prompted many tweeted pictures of smiling Scots holding bottles and even cases of its whisky.
Later in 2012, Trump was invited to give evidence on the impact of wind turbines in the Scottish Parliament. After his ludicrous “I am the evidence” speech, the Donald was greeted by a wall of protesters outside including Stan Blackley, a Scottish professor who raised the hairs on Trump’s combover with a statically charged balloon. The resulting picture was included in a video played on a US network show which has attracted more than two million views online. Canadian comedian Samantha Bee sent reporter Amy Hoggart to Scotland “to discuss resisting oppression with people who are born crotchety”. The resulting film is rude but hilarious, and disrespectful acts of Scottish resistance to their own president are met with laughter and applause by the American studio audience.
More seriously, in 2010, Dr David Kennedy, former principal of Robert Gordon University, very publicly handed back his honorary degree when Trump was given a gong for “business acumen” in bulldozing through his golf course on the Menie Estate.
Five years later, though, Trump’s degree was taken back by RGU after he called for all Muslims to be banned from the US and a petition rescinding the honour attracted more than 80,000 signatures. Aberdonian Suzanne Kelly was the woman behind that action and the online site Aberdeen Voice then launched a UK Parliament petition calling for Trump to be banned from entering the UK. It gained more than half a million signatures and prompted a Commons debate.
2016 was another busy year for Scots protesting against Trump in all kinds of ways. The highest authority in the Scottish golfing world, the R&A, confirmed that no Open Championship will be held at Trump’s new Turnberry course until 2022 at the earliest. And a BBC Scotland debate asked political leaders before the 2016 Holyrood elections what they would say if Trump called.
“Get off my phone,” – Willie Rennie, Lib Dems. “Can I have fries with that?” – Ruth Davidson, Conservative. “I’m on the other line, sorry,” – Nicola Sturgeon, SNP. “Stop preaching hate,” – Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour. “I’m speechless,” – Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens .
All of this matters. Academics and farmers, neighbours and golfers, comedians and politicians have all consistently opposed the actions of Trump. So why on earth would we not protest when the American president cages children, then heads north like an honorary Scot. We have an obligation, folks.
For migrants. For children. For a sustainable planet. But above all for our own values and the way Scots express ourselves. Trump is not welcome here and we need to make sure he knows it.