Far from banning the US presidential hopeful, we should hold him to account, writes Martyn McLaughlin
The freedom to offend is a privilege Donald Trump has indulged in readily over recent weeks, but to curtail it now would only grant him the martyrdom on which his presidential aspirations so depend.
The idea of banning the plutocrat from Britain is as alluring as it is facile. A walking monument to absurdity hewn out of margarine, hay and bile, his odious proclamations are a pollutant to reasoned discourse. Silencing them is an appreciable temptation.
But nine years after his charmless sideshow nailed its pegs to the periphery of British public life by laying out the blueprints for Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire, our political class cannot be allowed to substitute revulsion for sycophancy quite so abruptly. They, and Trump, must heed a long overdue need for scrutiny.
The Commons debate for 18 January scheduled last night by Westminster’s petitions committee in response to the 568,000 signatories opposed to Trump’s return to these shores cannot descend into a moral superiority contest. There is an opportunity to seize upon this indignation and remedy Holyrood’s ineptitude in properly holding Trump and his businesses to account.
The talk of a ban ignores an inconvenient truth. Trump is already here and will remain so indefinitely. He and his son, Eric, are directors of five British-registered companies. The portfolio is modest compared to their US operation, yet the paperwork throws up questions that should whet the appetite of politicians sustained by more than cheap outrage.
Take the documents lodged by Trump with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as part of his run for the White House. They claim his Aberdeenshire resort enjoys an income just shy of £2.95 million and that Turnberry – the golfing jewel in South Ayrshire Trump acquired in spring 2014 – generates £13.8m.
The numbers are small change in the 92 page document filed with the US regulatory agency. Overall, Trump has declared his net worth to be in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS (his capitalisation, not mine), a figure contested by several respected economic commentators.
But amid the continuing uncertainty over the rigour of the 69-year-old’s process of self-auditing, rudimentary inquiry throws up clear discrepancies over the financial performance of his golf course interests in Scotland.
The most recent accounts at Companies House, for example, indicate that far from enjoying multi-million pound profits, Trump International Golf Links shed £1.13m in 2014, the third successive year it has made a loss. The contrast in the reported figures at Trump’s prized Turnberry resort is even more acute. Nowhere is the £13.8m figure evident; instead, the papers show its controlling company, SLC Turnberry Limited, also incurred losses of £1.13m.
Look closer at the FEC documents and a final startling fact emerges. Despite the losses and a modest expenditure drive, Trump believes each resort is worth in excess of $50m (£33m). The coastlines of Aberdeenshire and South Ayrshire may be spellbinding, but even the most impassioned advocate of Scotland’s natural assets would be hard pushed to concur with The Donald’s appraisal, especially in light of the collateral damage his antagonistic outbursts have visited upon their reputation, with the Royal & Ancient said to be minded to exclude Turnberry from the Open Championship rota.
Only Trump and his accountants are privy to the homebrewed blend of bluster and prognostication that lead to such aggressive assessments, but the Scottish figures are important. The FEC submission – a legal requirement under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 – indicate that Trump’s golf courses around the world generate around £119.5m, nearly half his income. When there is a risk that some of those resorts might be as overinflated as his ego, it casts doubt over the true worth of his entire empire.
For all that his practised ideological toxicity strikes a chord with American society’s fearful and angry fringes, let us not lose sight of Trump’s primary qualification for the presidency: his fortune. With less than a month until the Iowa caucuses, tugging at the loose ends of his treasure trove could provide a timely dissection of the means and methods by which he hopes to make America “great again”.
While that is a job primarily for those in the US, it is prudent to probe Trump’s British interests for ourselves and, ideally, implore him to elaborate on some of the details sketched in the Companies House filings.
How, for instance, does he reconcile his promise to boost Ayrshire’s economy with the decision by SLC Turnberry to wind up a pension scheme for the resort’s employees?
Precisely how much does he intend to invest at Turnberry, given the figure leapfrogged from £100m in June 2014 to £250m that November, only to recede to £200m by last September?
What progress is being made on the pledge to create 945 full-time jobs in Aberdeenshire given the accounts of Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited identify a mere 95 staff on the books, including Trump and his five fellow directors?
Can he and the Scottish Government elaborate on the nature and scope of the Trump Organisation’s “official partnership” with the publicly-owned Glasgow Prestwick Airport and the discussions he claims to have held with Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary?
Far from vetoing this carnival barker and his gaseous performance art, Britain should extend an invitation for his expeditious return to answer some pertinent questions. Goodness knows there are enough of them.