29 November 2012
Trump is looking
deeply into the
first minister's eyes
Drawing by Bob Smith
One of the more bizarre features of the American presidential election was the haverings or, more accurately, the twitterings of a Donald J Trump of Manhattan. Clearly Mr Trump is a bad loser and doesn't do gracious defeat. Mr Trump believes the world 'is laughing at us' following President Obama's re-election.
One suspects the world would have laughed more, probably hysterically, had Romney and the Republicans prevailed. Undaunted, Mr Trump twitters on. The election was a 'disgusting injustice, a sham and a travesty'. He urged the like-minded to 'march on Washington'.
Just as well our politicians have had the good sense to have nothing to do with the likes of Mr Trump. Oh, I see. It's that Donald J Trump is it?
In the weeks since the US election, I have looked in vain for any comment from the first minister about his past and current involvement with Mr Trump. By now Mr Salmond must be only too aware of the consequences of getting too close to Mr Trump and his controversial golf course at Menie in Aberdeenshire. That involvement has given rise to questions about the first minister's judgement, especially where the rich and famous are involved.
In Anthony Baxter's gloriously partial movie 'You've Been Trumped', an academic from the London School of Economics likens Mr Trump to a poker player. It is a very fitting analogy. It didn't take long for Mr Trump and his colleagues to size up the Scottish Government, Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen City Council. Very early on they realised they were at the gaming table with out of town hicks. Mr Trump duly played his full house and made off with the pot while ministers and councillors were still sorting their cards looking for Mrs Bun, the baker's wife. With a little ego polishing here and a little backslapping there, Mr Trump was home and dry.
Mr Trump continues to act as if the Scottish Government is a busted flush. He is understandably confident that Scottish ministers will fold their cards in relation to the proposed offshore turbines that he claims would offend the eyes of his wealthy golfers. Mr Trump is so confident of taking the wind from the government's sails that he feels able to declare, 'the windfarm project is as good as dead'. What is going on here? Either Mr Trump has received a nod and a wink or, as is more likely, he is engaging the Scottish Government in another game of poker.
The Scottish Government is now only too aware that Mr Trump is skilled at raising the stakes and bluffing. Not content with the destruction of one unique part of Scotland he has declared his intention to build a second course at Menie, presumably on the understanding that the offshore turbines are not built.
'Coincidentally', the Trump organisation has chosen this moment to describe the success of the existing course as 'phenomenal'. The Trump spin has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by the uncritical local media, which continues to portray Mr Trump as a cross between Moses and Andrew Carnegie. The icing on the cake for Mr Trump is the news that former president Clinton is to play the course next year. One suspects the only way for the Scottish Government's first minister to be there is to offer his services as a caddy for Slick Willie.
The challenge for the first minister is whether or not to call Mr Trump's bluff. Mr Salmond is in a difficult position, largely of his own making. He may well suspect that the prospect of a 'second course' is a gaming chip in Mr Trump's battle to get his way over the proposed offshore windfarm. In some respects the first minister is in a lose/lose situation. If the turbines get the go-ahead it is likely Mr Trump will pull the plug on the proposed hotel and second course. Mr Salmond's problem is that he cannot be certain that Mr Trump has any intention of building either. On the other hand, if the windfarm proposal is rejected or there is fudge in the shape of relocation, it will inevitably appear as if the Scottish Government has once again been trumped.
Doubtless Mr Salmond is frantically seeking a face-saving compromise that neither provides Mr Trump with an easy exit nor makes the Scottish Government and its first minister look like toothless tigers, Celtic or not. However it is time to take a critical look at the benefits that this divisive development has delivered.
As is always the case, the economic benefits of developments such as this are seriously overblown. The ludicrous economic projections arising from the proposed redevelopment of Aberdeen's Union Terrace Gardens is another example. The hundreds of jobs that the first minister claimed would be generated by the construction of a golf course on a beautiful and sensitive part of the Scottish coastline have not materialised. Even at the construction stage, local contractors were bypassed in favour of an Irish company.
The truth of the matter is that yet another golf course, whether it's the second greatest course in the world or not, is a fleabite in relation to the economic challenges that face Scotland in the short and medium terms. Few are confident that renewable sources such as offshore windfarms will go even part of the way to address our energy and wider economic needs. However, to turn our backs on potential technological innovation in favour of a pastime that involves a wee ball and a stick would say much about our aspirations for modern Scotland.
Mr Trump, the poker player, has looked at his cards and is staring deeply into the first minister's eyes. If Mr Salmond is to safeguard his already diminished stock of credibility, he cannot afford to blink now, even if Mr Trump proposes a march on Bute House or demands to see his birth certificate.
Douglas Marr CBE is a former headteacher