When Donald Trump came to the Scottish Parliament four years ago to give evidence before MSPs, it was more than just a great piece of political theatre. It revealed a canny operator who could hold his own, even turn adversity to advantage, in the most unwelcoming situation.
Many observers felt “the Donald” may struggle to deal with the detailed questions of MSPs. The Holyrood committee he was appearing before had spent weeks conducting a painstaking inquiry into the economic, environmental and energy benefits of wind turbines which the tycoon feared were poised to ruin the coastal vista from his multi-million pound golf development in the north-east.
But Trump wiped the floor with the MSPs that day. He handled their questions with ease, memorably thundering “I am the evidence” when challenged over what proof he could provide to back up his assertions.
The surprise appearance when the tycoon later briefed journalists of Anthony Baxter, who had just made a less then flattering documentary about Trump’s treatment of locals on the Menie estate, failed to knock “the Donald” off his stride. “Congratulations on your film – I hear it’s been a miserable failure,” the tycoon boomed. Even as he left Parliament, met by a mob of environmentalists objecting to his stance on turbines, Trump quickly spotted a rival demonstration against windfarms – supporting him – but in the opposite direction to his waiting limo. The presidential hopeful made a beeline for this latter group, ensuring the evening news and next day’s pictures would show him flanked by supporters.
It may be a forgotten vignette in the colourful career of one of the world’s most flamboyant businessmen. But it did leave observers with the sense that, behind the larger than life media image, was a smart operator who knew exactly how to gauge the mood in any given situation and which buttons to press.
And this is something Alex Salmond should bear in mind in his current war of words with the tycoon. The feud between the pair stems from the presence of the offshore windfarm on the Aberdeenshire coast and has degenerated in recent years as the pair trade insults over a range of issues. Most recently the ex-First Minister branded the US presidential hopeful a “chicken” for failing to debate with him on his now weekly radio phone-in. It may be great entertainment for some, but Salmond surely has to think about the wider picture.
Salmond is, after all, insulting a major inward investor in Scotland – and a potential US president. Trump’s threat to ban Muslims from travelling to the US was unacceptable. But if – as looks likely – he secures the Republican candidacy, then Trump will be smart enough to completely re-position his campaign. Anything could happen in the head-to-head for the White House with Hillary Clinton, who has limited reach in middle America.
Salmond was always a First Minister who put jobs first. Perhaps he should speak to his Nationalist MP colleague, Corri Wilson, who represents Turnberry. She told MPs that staff and members at the world famous club, which Trump bought over, feel his organisation has turned the place around after years of stagnation. As austerity continues to bite, Scotland cannot afford to jeopardise that kind of inward investment. And with relations recovering with the US after the Lockerbie bomber’s release, the country does not need to make an enemy of a future US president.