Donald Trump: Bawbag Blowing in the Wind
The Donald’s at it again. This time in Scotland.
I haven’t written much about Trump’s adventures in our Highland fastnesses before (I think the sum total of it on Rumproast is in the comments here) because the story’s quite depressing, and much more our problem than yours, though it has garnered some media coverage in America over the years.
The New Clearances
In 2007, The Donald flew in, waved his checkbook around, and set about bribing, menacing, and armtwisting his way into building a mammoth new billion-dollar “world-class” golf resort at Balmedie, near the UK’s old oil capital of Aberdeen, initially slated to include “a 450-bedroom hotel, a golf academy, 950 holiday homes, 36 golf villas and a residential development”. One of his websites trumpets:
I have been actively looking for links land in Europe for the past few years, and of course my preference was Scotland over any other country because I am half Scottish. My Mother, Mary MacLeod is from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. She grew up in a simple croft until she landed in Manhattan at the age of 20 and her first language was Gaelic.
When I saw this piece of land I was overwhelmed by the imposing dunes and rugged Aberdeenshire coastline. I knew that this was the perfect site for Trump International - Scotland. I have never seen such an unspoiled and dramatic sea side landscape and the location makes it perfect for our development. Our site is close to two of the world’s most famous courses and is just 15 minutes by car from Aberdeen Airport.
The initial wrangles focused on his plans to stabilize sand dunes that comprise a Site of Special Scientific Interest that make up 40% of this coastal “unspoiled and dramatic landscape”. The dunes naturally shift with wind and tide, and form a rare environment hosting a vast range of bird and wildlife. Trump’s argument was basically that he’d stop them blowing away and tidy them up, which is surely a good thing all round.
People try to live in this area too. Trump chose to honor his mother’s memory and his Scots heritage by re-enacting the Highland Clearances on a smaller scale. This did not go unopposed, one major thorn in his side being the organization Tripping Up Trump:
The TUT campaign has been key to Donald Trump’s retreat from the use of compulsory purchase orders.
The threat of forced evictions was deliberately held over the heads of the Menie families for nearly two years. Donald Trump’s track record shows he cannot be trusted to behave reasonably towards his neighbours or act responsibly towards the environment. He has bullied and mislead from the start.
In February 2011, having spent the interim period humphing around with his usual diplomacy, insulting anybody who stood in his way and always holding up the threat that he’d take his investors’ money elsewhere if he didn’t get everything he wanted, Trump was all magnanimity:
DONALD Trump yesterday promised he will not bulldoze any homes to clear the way for his £750 million Scottish golf resort.
The US tycoon has been at loggerheads with four families who refuse to budge for his plans for Menie estate, near Balmedie, Aberdeenshire.
The council granted him permission in May 2009 to include the properties in his plans but his team failed to persuade them to sell.
Now Trump has confirmed he will not ask the council to use compulsory purchase powers to seize the land. He said: “We have consistently said we have no interest in compulsory purchase and have never applied for it.
“It remains part of the Scottish planning process but we have not, and will not, request that the council use their CPO powers to purchase houses.”
It is understood no further offers will be made, meaning the development will go ahead around the homes, including a farm run by Michael Forbes that Trump branded a “pigsty”.
The 60-year-old Mr. Forbes has been Trump’s most stubborn opponent, refusing to sell his land despite being offered a lump sum of £450,000 as well as £50,000 per year for an unspecified job:
“I’ll never ever sell to Trump,” Michael Forbes told the Daily News. “He’s pissed me off now.”
Forbes has stood his ground, along with another local family, the Milnes, and the work has continued around their smallholdings.
Scottish opinion has always been split over the development. Money doesn’t just talk, it yells, and although Aberdeen itself and a few other Highland areas have done pretty well out of the oil industry over the years, much of the money has gone to overseas concerns and the major boom times are in the past, so any promised investment is very tempting to many, including the Scottish Government and our own First Minister, Alex Salmond, whose own constituency lies in the area. The wrangles over planning consent stretched from 2007, when Aberdeenshire Council initially rejected the application only to have the Scottish Government “call in” the plans on the grounds that they were of national importance, the go-ahead finally being given in November 2008.
Since then, the first phase of the golf links has taken shape, but there have been further delays in the construction of the hotel complex and housing developments. And of course, the world economy looks a little different nowadays to how it did in 2007. I was skeptical anyway about the economics of building another major golf resort in Scotland since a number our other high-prestige courses have been struggling, even those with established reputations in rather less remote locations. Early last year I talked to pal of mine who works in planning in the Highland area and asked him what he felt about it all. “A lot of people should be hanging their heads in shame,” he said. He pointed out that the economics of the scheme hinged largely on the housing developments. We both agreed that if things looked like they were going to go pear-shaped, on past record Trump would likely withdraw in a huff and leave others to carry the bills and clear-up costs. (I cheered him up by pointing him at the Youtube of President Obama’s glorious roasting of Trump last year, and encouraged him to make it go viral mong his colleagues.)
And so it transpired in June 2011:
Donald Trump has been forced to postpone his plan to create the “world’s greatest” golf resort in Scotland, complete with five-star hotel and luxury villas, because of the global financial crisis.
Construction of the first 18-hole course was all but complete,
But the tycoon said that the full scheme, a £750m complex featuring a luxury hotel, Trump Boulevard, a golf academy, a second course and timeshare apartments, had been bunkered by the recession.
Trump said “the world has crashed” since he first bought the Menie estate and dunes in 2005, provoking a long-running battle with local residents, councillors and environmental groups about his proposals, which has involved heavily altering the legally protected rare dunes.
In the mean time, he wasn’t getting on any better with his new neighbors:
As Trump flew in, it emerged that a cinema in Aberdeen, the Belmont, had decided to give a new, highly-critical documentary investigating the tycoon’s conflicts with local residents, called You’ve Been Trumped, an extended run this weekend. This was due to “an amazing response” to a screening last Friday.
Trump has denounced the film as “a fraud”.
He also brushed aside continuing conflicts with his neighbours, particularly David and Moira Milne, owners of a former coastguard station overlooking the new course, and Michael Forbes, the salmon fisherman whose land Trump once described as “disgusting”.
Milne has been sent warning letters from Trump’s lawyers threatening legal action in a dispute over boundary fences and demands to demolish a garage which Trump believes intrudes on his land.
Trump’s local manager, Sarah Malone, claimed David Milne “has chosen to take an aggressive stance and if he moves his fence, there won’t be an issue. And if he doesn’t, we’re looking at all the options available to us”.
Andy Wightman, a land rights expert who has investigated the conflict between the Milnes and Trump, said the Milnes had proper title to land complete with a Ordnance Survey map record, which was legally registered with the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland.
“If Trump has a problem with boundaries, it should be taken up with the Keeper,” Wightman said. “It is totally out of order for them to issue threats of legal action to demolish other people’s property. I am dismayed that a Scottish law firm has been persuaded to follow through and issue such threats to people who simply wish to live in peace.”
Trump the Environmentalist
The trouble with assholes like Trump is that if you give them an inch, they’ll try for the whole mile and more. So it came to pass that having capitulated to him back in 2007, Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government now find themselves in his sights.
In January, he’d changed his tune over the reasons for halting development at Balmedie:
US tycoon Donald Trump has said work at his golf resort near Aberdeen has stopped until a decision is made on plans for a wind farm off the coast.
Mr Trump said the plans for 11 turbines in Aberdeen Bay would spoil the sea views for his customers at Menie in Aberdeenshire.
He said if the turbines were approved the last thing he would do was build a hotel looking out at it.
A planning application for the wind farm off Aberdeen Bay, 2km (1.2 miles) from his golf course, was submitted to Marine Scotland in August last year.
The European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre is a £150m joint venture by utility company Vattenfall, engineering firm Technip and Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group.
The wind farm’s developers said it was a strategic development which was crucial to the area’s economic future.
The Trump Organisation said in a statement: “We intend to open the championship golf course at the end of June, well ahead of schedule.
“All further plans for future development, including the hotel, are now on hold until the Scottish government makes a decision on the application for the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre.
Trump followed this early this month by having a minion hand him his finest purple crayon and firing off a vitriolic open letter to Alex Salmond (PDF here) which proved that irony is a foreign language at Trump Towers:
The billionaire last week accused the First Minister of being “hell bent on destroying Scotland’s coastline with wind power”.
Daniel Borbet, a spokesman for Trump, told Holyrood the ebullient attack is in direct defence of his luxury golf resort. Asked whether Trump was still on good terms with the First Minister, Mr Borbet replied: “Yes. They have had disagreements about wind farms in the past, but for the most part – yes.” Trump has previously called Salmond “an amazing man” and a credit to his country”.
But in his letter, Trump says if the wind farms go ahead, Salmond will single-handedly have done more damage to Scotland than virtually any event in Scottish history.
Trump continues: “Luckily, tourists will not suffer because there will be none as they will be going to other countries that had the foresight to use other forms of energy.” And later he warns: “Taxing your citizens to subsidise wind projects owned by foreign energy companies will destroy your country and its economy.
“Jobs will not be created in Scotland because these ugly monstrosities known as turbines are manufactured in other countries such as China. These countries are laughing at you.” In a portentous comment on the future Trump says: “You will be long gone, but the people of Scotland will forever suffer.
“I have just authorised my staff to allocate a substantial sum of money to launch an international campaign to fight your plan to surround Scotland’s coast with many thousands of wind turbines.
“It will be like looking through the bars of a prison and the Scottish citizens will be the prisoners.” Trump added of his objection: “I am doing this to save Scotland.”
Which last statement directly contradicts his spoke Daniel Borbet’s words up yonder, but never mind. Trump then took to the airwaves to claim:
“I have been told by our attorneys, our lawyers, that we can bring a very large lawsuit and probably win the lawsuit based on the harm that these horrible things will do to Scotland.
“I’ve been told we have a very good lawsuit, and we can delay it for years to come.
The Scottish National Party’s deputy leader in the UK Parliament, Stuart Hosie MP, disagreed:
“There is no decision made on the deployment of the facility .... That decision will be taken in due course and I’m sure it will be taken absolutely properly.
“I think the key thing to remember here is that this facility is a test facility. It’s 11 turbines, and I think it’s about three and a half kilometres off the coast. It’s not a full-scale wind turbine array. It will be a speck in the ocean somewhere miles away.”
Mr Hosie called Mr Trump “a very colourful character”, adding: “If Donald Trump isn’t happy I’m sure he will do whatever he feels is necessary, but so long as the planning process here is done absolutely scrupulously, as it will be, I’m not sure where Mr Trump will go with it.”
This was echoed by a Scottish Government spokesperson:
“Scottish waters are estimated to have as much as a quarter of Europe’s potential offshore wind energy.
“A recent study suggests that harnessing just a third of the practical resource off our coast by 2050 would enable us to generate enough electricity to power Scotland seven times over.
“An independent Scotland will be able to take full responsibility for this renewables revolution, along with the investment and thousands of jobs it brings.”
Chief executive of Scottish Renewables Niall Stuart responded to Mr Trump’s comments by asking: “Who is Donald Trump to tell Scotland what is good for our economy and our environment?”
He added: “Offshore wind is already attracting billions of pounds of investment and supporting hundreds of jobs across Scotland, including in his mother’s hometown of Stornoway.
“He completely overblows the impact of the proposed wind farm and, to be honest, there are so many mistakes in the ‘trumped-up’ nonsense that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
“There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that these two developments cannot exist side by side.”
And some in the Opposition in the Scottish Parliament agree:
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie branded the letter a “desperate attempt by a rich man” to get his own way.
He said: “First, Mr Trump accuses Scotland of being the laughing stock of the world, now he threatens to launch an international campaign.
“What Mr Trump needs to understand is that Scotland will live up to our responsibilities to tackle climate change. This letter is a rather desperate attempt by a rich man who is used to getting his own way, but his latest tizzy is embarrassing.
“Instead of the world laughing at Scotland, Scotland is laughing at Mr Trump.”
Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “This is an extraordinary piece of political theatre. Alex Salmond will no doubt recognise the bully-boy tactics that are being applied to him, but I hope he will also recognise that the right thing to do is to stand up to the bullies.” Stan Blackley, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “These letters suggest that Donald Trump is flapping in the wind of his own self-importance.
He accuses Alex Salmond of being ‘hell bent on destroying Scotland’s coastline’ yet fails to recognise that he has caused more destruction to Scotland’s coastline in recent years than any other individual through his so-called stabilising of the dunes at Menie Estate for his puffed-up putting green. Of course, Alex Salmond was complicit in this, and might now be regretting having got into bed with the Trump Organisation in the first place.” And Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland said: “Marine renewables are essential to producing clean energy and putting Scotland on a path to becoming a zero-carbon economy. Mr Trump seems to think a few millionaires flying in for a round of golf is more important than beating climate change and creating new green industries.”
David Milne, a Menie estate resident and a long-standing opponent of the Trump resort, said: “It’s a rather extreme and childish rant, rather than a letter. This is the sort of letter you would expect to be written by a 14-year-old who would then normally have the gumption not to actually send it.”
And now Trump has dispatched his avatar in Scotland, abrasive Trump Organization VP George Sorial, with a £10 million “war chest” to fund anti-windfarm campaigners across the UK, including the group Communities Against Turbines Scotland, and Trump may also be given another platform to make a damn fool of himself:
The Scottish Parliament’s economy, energy and tourism committee will decide next month whether to invite him to give evidence.
Its inquiry is into Scotland’s renewable energy targets..
If it happens, I’ll keep you posted.
Of course, as in America, there’s much local controversy over the scale and placement of some of these new installations in the UK, and not without some justification. For instance, at the remote Hebridean island of Tiree (which I was lucky enough to visit a couple of years ago), locals claim “the Tiree Array will be around five times the size of the Island itself, wrapped around sunny flat little Tiree from the south east to the north west and both enveloping and towering over the glorious Skerryvore Lighthouse.”
But wind power is not the be-all and end-all of Scotland’s alternative energy drive. Other developments have sought to integrate more successfully with local communities (some of whom do profit from the placement of windfarms) and the environment, in a number of cases freeing them from reliance on costly diesel generation of electricity. For instance, Shetland is set to get the world’s first community-owned tidal turbine, a similar test scheme is planned for the Kintyre Peninsula, the community-owned Islay Energy Trust‘s innovative tidal stream development is beginning to come online, and another similar project is to be located in the Pentland Firth.
This is a dialogue we’re already having. We don’t really need Donald Trump stomping around, pouting and braying and covering his ass as he looks for an excuse to withdraw from yet another grand scheme of his that looks like it’s falling apart, and muddying our waters. We’ll enjoy the laughs, I’m sure, but I’m almost driven to wish he’d make his mind up to run for POTUS, just to get him off our backs for a while.