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On the highland trail with Trump


If you can build a golf course, you can build a country

"This is the best road in Aberdeen, the best drive you'll get" the taxi driver told me approvingly as we bowled along pristine asphalt into Trump International golf course, 12 miles north of the city.

A few hours later, above an equally immaculate fairway, a helicopter dramatically circled before descending besides the 100+ strong press pack. As the rotors stopped thrumming and aides, security detail and that familiar rumpled, trucker-capped figure jumped out, you could have heard a pin drop. The chopper, with its black, red and white livery, and its TRUMP insignia, could have come from the Thunderbirds hangar.

Accompanied by sons Eric and Don, and a grandchild, in bright windcheaters, there was a Ruritanian touch as the candidate shook hands with a line-up of red fleece-wearing employees. At this point I was stifling giggles.

We were told that this was a family visit by Donald Trump, that there was a full tee sheet of golfers out on the course and today wasn't the day for Q&As. In fact, the pack launched into a barrage of questions which Trump met with nonchalant swagger and vagueness, ignoring anything that didn’t take his fancy. US campaign trail reporters schooled the rest of us with their clear, urgent lines of enquiry, sometimes laced with golfing metaphor.

Local journalists plugged away trying to get him to say something about Scottish independence, following Nicola Sturgeon’s post-Brexit vote speech, to no avail. Trump’s referendum analysis was limited to declaring the United Kingdom as a whole “wants to be independent, that's how it is… It's going to be very successful ultimately” and attacking Obama and Hillary Clinton for misreading the public mood.

Sturgeon he hadn’t met yet but had no doubt was a nice person. In response to a question about whether he would allow Scottish Muslims into the US, he said off-hand that it “doesn’t bother me”, leading to repeated demands for clarification. Between batches of questions, Trump led the way to the teeing ground of the next hole, culminating at the 18th with a magnificent view of the sea – with reporters scrambling in golf buggies, Gator carts and on foot to keep up with the travelling circus.

The ambulant format helped Team Trump distract a little from the story being about the Mexican flags positioned around the course – one comically close to the clubhouse – by alienated neighbour Michael Forbes and others.

While the world’s media awaited their guest, a group of 20-25 protesters reached the crest of a slope, waving further Mexican flags, surrounded by a dozen police, their chants – “Trump won’t win, put him in the bin/Who is he? Put him in the sea”; “Hey (hey) ho (ho) Islamophobia’s got to go” – just out of earshot.

Aberdeen University Student Association president Genna Clarke describes the action as directed “more at our students than at Trump… a positive message about supporting tolerance and diversity”. The police tried to find them a spot on the course to demonstrate but management rejected this a day beforehand, she claims; when a member of Trump’s staff told them they weren’t welcome, they asked him to relay the same message back to Mr Trump. Documentary maker Anthony Baxter, granted an interview by Trump for his 2015 film on the impact of luxury golf, A Dangerous Game, says he was prevented from filming twice and calls the police presence “completely over the top”.

“No-one can rebuild better than I can, take a look at what you're looking at right now”

The story of the construction of the course explored by Baxter’s earlier film You've Been Trumped is mired in controversy, with local council objections on environmental grounds overruled by the Scottish government and accusations Trump bullied residents, including a 90 year old woman, cutting their water and power supply during the building process.Out on the course, Trump robustly declared that aside from one or two refuseniks, “most neighbours love us. One of the documentaries they are doing, they're trying to find people that dislike Donald Trump in Aberdeen. They couldn't find any… What I've done for Aberdeen is great”. It’s a striking claim when the petition to ban Trump from the UK was started by an Aberdeen activist, and given the billionaire fell out with the golf course’s local MSP, and former First Minister, Alex Salmond, over an offshore wind farm proposal, leading Trump to declare Salmond would be "known for centuries" as "the man who destroyed Scotland".

Undoubtedly he has fans, such as my taxi driver, who calls the Mexican flag protests “pathetic”. “I’m not in favour of many things he says [politically]. If you’re open-speaking you will attract a lot of controversy. Someone who can pump that much money into Aberdeen, I don’t have a problem with it”. Of Trump’s failure so far to make good on promises to build a second course with a 450 room hotel and bring 6,000 jobs to the area (the current development accounts for less than 200 jobs), Research and Policy Director of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce James Bream notes that"if you look at golf course developments, it takes some time for them to realise full value”. Locals should “look at what's achieved… in a half-full manner.All employment is welcome at the moment”.

However Trump's friend and admirer, local hotelier Stewart Spence MBE – "the north-east can never thank him enough for what he's created" – thinks the larger hotel is unlikely to be built in the forseeable future given the collapse in oil prices. "I don't want it to be a noose around his neck", he says.

For Green councillor Martin Ford, the gulf between the rhetoric and reality on the economic benefits, and thus lack of any upside for the environmental damage caused, is so extreme and characteristic that it reveals Trump to be a fantasist – and unfit to hold political office.

Suspend all prior judgement and it’s quite compelling when Trump, standing on his beautiful course, says of his vision to rebuild US infrastructure: “No-one can rebuild better than I can, take a look at what you're looking at right now”. And yet when Alex Salmond rebuffs Trump by saying Scots wouldn’t elect him local dog-catcher, what does this say about the man who aspires to tower over the free world?


Josh Neicho is a freelance writer and subeditor at The World Weekly