Lesley Riddoch: Donald Trump sideshow should be ignored

Trump: 'strikes  the wrong note in just about everything he does' Picture: PA
Trump: 'strikes the wrong note in just about everything he does' Picture: PA
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WIND energy is supported by two-thirds of people in Scotland, but the antis make more noise and headlines, writes Lesley Riddoch

Donald Trump: an unsavoury blend of Midas and King Canute; an uncomfortable fusion of Simon Cowell and Andrew Neil. It’s hard to think of a less sympathetic character in the eyes of most Scots. Despite all his tartanry and trumpeting of heritage, The Donald is almost the anti-Scot personified.

Left and right, unionist and nationalist, man and woman, young and old – it takes quite a lot to unite the people of this notoriously fractious little country in a collective shudder. But Donald Trump effortlessly manages to strike the wrong note in just about everything he does.

The sneering at thrawn locals in modest homes who won’t move out of his way – wrong. The bragging about his power and wealth – wrong. The hotel design that makes Disneyland look culturally authentic – wrong. The staged, posed photocalls – wrong. The entourage of Beautiful People – wrong. The hair – wrong. The bullying manner towards staff, reporters, supporters and opponents – wrong. The naked belief that money can buy everything – wrong. The assumption that a golf course would distract attention from the massive housing project slipped in alongside – wrong. The rusting Hawaiian wind-turbines used in Saturday’s misleading Scottish newspaper ads – wrong. Even the endless references to his Hebridean roots – wrong. Scots are so thoroughly root-bound there’s no need to display origins like consciously-acquired credentials.

Every attribute Scots hold dear is offended by this man – and yet attention and hostility serve only to feed Donald Trump’s overwrought sense of self importance. The Bard well described his type. Holy Wullie – blind to his own conceit, greed and double standards. Or “yon birkie ca’d a Lord, wha’ struts an stares an a’ that”. It’s easy to mock. Really easy. But hardly productive.

Trump’s appearance before Holyrood’s economy, energy and tourism committee this week will be watched by packed public and press galleries in Holyrood, overspill rooms nearby and live online. It will be the news sensation of the month – maybe the year. And yet the hot air, fury, allegations and claims will ultimately signify nothing.

We get so few world-ranking billionaire buffoons in Scotland it’s no wonder we are mesmerised. But let’s be clear. Donald Trump represents next to no-one except Donald Trump.

Even those who support his (current) anti-wind farm stance – like Communities against Turbines – are keeping their campaigning distance. Perhaps that’s because the “tourism-crushing eyesore” Trump opposes is not technically a windfarm. It’s the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre – a test centre for offshore turbines.

EOWDC will help reduce the need for onshore wind farms, other countries will pay to use the test facilities and jobs will be created in Scotland. Like EMEC – the award-winning Marine Energy Centre near Stromness – EOWDC will help Scotland become a world leader in Offshore Wind technology. Everyone bar one man backs this project.

And yet the noise Donald Trump will create on Wednesday, combined with the kneejerk opposition to all wind development from a vocal minority may scare away renewable investors.

It’s no coincidence that Doosan – the company whose decision to cancel a planned investment prompted angry exchanges at First Ministers’ Questions last week – is located in South Korea. The aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Japan and the existence of massive “local” energy markets in China mean the Far East is a far better bet for renewable investors than distant, hesitant Scotland.

So keeping the interest of Vattenfall, the Swedish-based energy company behind EOWDC should be a far higher priority for Scots than placating a man whose controversial golf development may quietly be going belly-up anyway.

So let’s concentrate on the real debate – not the Trump sideshow. The anti-wind lobby does not represent majority opinion in Scotland and yet it punches well above its weight. Why is that? A new opinion poll shows two-thirds of Scots back wind – offshore and onshore – as part of a mixed energy policy. That proportion has stayed remarkable constant over the last ten years. And yet a cursory glance at current newspaper headlines would suggest otherwise.

Some dislike wind turbine aesthetics, some question their efficiency. But the anti-wind “movement” also arises from a lack of land democracy in Scotland. Any rural development currently benefits landowners far more than local Scots. Wind farms have involved too many deals between unaccountable landowners, faceless corporations and distant councils to create much local affection.

The Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 decreed no development should take place in the country to help Britain’s farmers restore food self-sufficiency. The resulting Berlin Wall between town and country has locked people into cities and promoted a public and professional conviction that green land must not be sullied by human development.

And yet climate change continues to accelerate. Fossil fuels will run out despite fracking and shale gas extraction. Long before then our children and grandchildren will be on a desperate quest to find carbon-neutral alternatives. We owe it to them to spend now so their world is not fossil-fuel dependent.

That’s why it’s worth reconsidering the “big is beautiful” presumption behind most current energy proposals – fossil-fuel or renewable, marine or wind.

In Denmark (where there is near unanimous parliamentary approval for a totally renewable energy policy) there is also a much higher proportion of smaller community-owned projects. In Scotland, community revenue-generating renewable energy proposals had a 100 per cent success rate in getting planning consent against a 56 per cent success rate by large-scale privately-owned energy developments. There’s more than 5MW of community-owned turbines on Orkney, generating investment funds of £15 million across six host communities. Why can’t we have more of that?

The non-community-owned nature of most Scottish wind farm projects has created local disconnection and a feeling that land and people are somehow being exploited. As long as this land is not our land, as long as most Scots belong to cities and most land belongs to the gentry and some farmers, there will be little whole-hearted, enthusiastic, loving, noisy support for wind energy projects – just an intellectual acceptance that they are good for the planet.

Maybe the authorities think it doesn’t matter who owns Scotland’s natural assets. Maybe Scottish communities need real skin in the game before their voices are raised spontaneously against clowns like Donald Trump.