Donald Trump preys on American voters’ fears over immigration and the perceived threat of terrorism. Fear was also a factor when Trump came to Scotland in 2007 – he preyed on politicians’ fears that North Sea oil was running out. Business leaders in Aberdeen responded to his promise of 6,000 jobs through the building of a luxury Trump golf resort, as “the second coming of oil”. And one of the first in line to talk up the development was Alex Salmond.
Last week, the former Scotland first minister, Alex Salmond, branded Donald Trump “three times a loser” after the UK supreme court rejected the billionaire’s attempt to block the construction of a wind farm near his golf course. Back in 2007, when Trump first detailed plans for his $1.5bn luxury resort on the rare sand dunes that form part of the Menie estate, Salmond was busy courting Trump. The development was in his Gordon constituency, after all.
Every credible environmental group in the land was objecting to the Trump development, warning that it would destroy a protected site of special scientific interest (SSSI), but Salmond was wining and dining with Trump in New York. The scientists said the unique, moving dunes on which Trump wanted to build were “the crown jewels” of our natural heritage. Yet Salmond appeared on TV news programmes defending the development, saying environmental concerns were outweighed by the economic benefits and the thousands of jobs that would flow from it. Aberdeenshire council threw out Trump’s plans in November 2007 but Salmond subsequently met Trump representatives at an Aberdeen hotel. Shortly afterwards, his government “called in” the Trump proposal, claiming it was “in the national interest” of Scotland for the development to receive consideration through a government-backed inquiry. A year later, the golf development was given the green light by Salmond’s cabinet secretary for finance, John Swinney.
In 2009, bulldozers swiftly moved on to an environmentally sensitive site and began ripping up trees and burying them in crater-like holes. Trump was giving press conferences where he accused a local farmer, Michael Forbes, of living like “a pig”, and called his home “a slum”, threatening to pull the plug on a planned luxury hotel for the resort if Forbes “didn’t clean up his property”. Another local resident, Susan Munro, explained to me on camera how she had been forced to spreadeagle over the bonnet of her car by Trump security guards, while attempting to reach her home. At the crack of dawn, an army of diggers lurched into action to build a massive wall of earth around the home of resident David Milne, whose house Trump said he wanted to get rid of. In the summer of 2010, Trump’s workers had accidentally cut off the water to the homes of Michael Forbes and his wife Sheila, and of Michael’s mother Molly, which is served by a private well. Yet Molly, who is now 91 years old, was forced to retrieve her water from a nearby stream with a bucket and push it to her home in a wheelbarrow. Despite claims from the Trump Organisation that it would restore the Forbes’ water, this appalling situation continues to this day. What has Salmond done to help her? Nothing. The Trump Organisation claims it is not their problem. So does the Scottish government. While all this was going on, Salmond was nowhere to be seen, despite driving by the development every week en route to the Holyrood parliament in Edinburgh from his constituency. When Michael Forbes won the Top Scot award in 2012 Tens of thousands of people voted for him over the Wimbledon tennis champion, Andy Murray, and the comedian Billy Connolly. Yet when the Trump Organisation issued a statement branding the Menie estate residents “a national embarrassment to Scotland”, there was no rebuke from Salmond’s office at the time – just a deafening silence.
Trump’s development, in Aberdeenshire, employs fewer than 100 people. Salmond’s willingness to cosy up to Trump over a development that contained wildly optimistic economic projections has resulted in the destruction of a unique stretch of coastline for generations to come.