It started quite calmly but ended with a near riot, as supporters and critics traded applause and insults. Donald Trump, ever the crowd-pleasing showman, the brusque, blunt wheel-dealer, had his wish.
After a relatively understated appearance at the Scottish parliament to decry Scotland’s rush for windpower, where he in effect accused his one-time ally Alex Salmond of deliberately deceiving him to ensure his £750m golf course investment, Trump emerged on the streets of Edinburgh.
As he strolled out, smirking in pleasure and waving, anti-wind activists hailed his support and his enemies hurled abuse. Police officers rushed into the crowd and surrounded Trump in a protective cordon as the property baron tried to touch hands with admirers crushed behind a crowd barrier.
Amid a bewildering array of competing placards, posters, flags and proclamatory T-shirts, there were loud repetitive chants of “there’s only one Donald Trump” and “no more turbines” from a crowd dressed in Barbour jackets, ironic top hats and bright yellow UK Independence party tabards.
But there were chants too from his opponents: one young man rushed at Trump to denounce the tycoon’s repeated efforts to force residents living on the edge of his £750m golf resort to leave.
“You’re ruining lives,” he shouted, as a burly police officer pushed into him to quell his abuse. “You’re a liar. You destroy people’s lives in Aberdeenshire.”
Within minutes, Trump was bustled through photographers and television cameras into a waiting Range Rover, with the black paintwork customary for Trump’s frequent visits to Scotland.
Trump had been due to give a speech to his admirers, all drawn from the various local anti-windfarm campaign groups in the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Shetland and Perthshire, where Salmond’s dream of building the thousands of turbines needed to hit his target of 100% renewable electricity by 2020 is being made real.
All members of the umbrella campaign Communities Against Turbines (CAT), they are delighted the mogul has promised to put in up to £10m to finance their campaign and legal battles.
This is perhaps Trump’s boldest intervention into Scottish politics. He has insisted he will spend as much as is needed to defeat a “monstrous” windfarm just “one mile” offshore from his golf course north of Aberdeen and in direct sight of his planned hotel, taking legal action to block it if necessary.
His critics insist this and many of his assertions to the committee are wrong. The company building the experimental, 11-turbine windfarm, which is backed by the European Union and the Scottish government, insisted on Wednesday that the turbines would be three miles (4.9km) away from Trump’s clubhouse and 2.4 miles offshore from the southern boundary of his course.
At a press conference after Trump’s 105 minutes of evidence alongside two CAT spokesmen to Holyrood’s energy and tourism committee, the Guardian asked him how and when he would make good on his promise to block the windfarm.
Trump was unable to confirm that £10m was in offer, replying: “We’re looking into that. We will spend whatever is necessary, whatever we’re allowed to spend. We’re looking into the laws of this country.”
Trump had arrived at the hearing in committee room one with his customary rolling, prizefighter’s walk, with a serious look on his face. Flanked by his often combative right-hand man, George Sorial, he began gently, thanking the committee for the opportunity to appear.
But after his preamble it quickly became clear that the Scottish National party, which Salmond leads, no longer regards him as a friend nor an ally. Successive SNP MSPs, in a kindly but politely hostile fashion, questioned him about his repeated claims about the “tens of millions of pounds” he had spent on his now stalled resort, his assertions about energy policy, climate change and his contested claims about public hatred for renewables.
The MSP Chick Brodie, who sports two-tone shirts and well-oiled hair, pointed to a series of opinion polls on wind power commissioned deliberately to spike Trump’s guns which showed that up to 70% of Scots support onshore windfarms. So too did the Irish, Brodie said, a nation cited by Trump earlier as “laughing” at Scotland over its love affair with wind power.
Here came the first of Trump’s characteristic boasts: he didn’t need to produce any proof that tourism to Scotland was being damaged by subsidy-draining, inefficient and Chinese-built windfarms. He was evidence, personified. “I’m an expert in tourism. I have won many, many awards … if you dot your landscape with these horrible, horrible structures, you will do tremendous damage.”
Trump was later pressed hard by reporters, flanked by more than 20 television cameras and photographers whose flashes pulsed every time Trump gestured, about his detailed claims that Salmond had promised him in 2007 that there was no prospect of the offshore windfarm being built.
Sorial reminded Trump, who appeared hazy about the dates, that they had met for dinner in October 2007 – during Salmond’s two-day trip to New York five months after he won power as first minister. Trump confirmed he had no written proof about Salmond’s guarantees, but insisted no letters or witnesses were needed: “I’m the evidence,” he proclaimed.
He then linked Salmond’s vehement denials that he had ever made such a guarantee with both Salmond’s apparent denials on Tuesday that he had lobbied UK government ministers over News Corp’s bid for BSkyB and the Scottish government’s controversial compassionate release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, because of his terminal cancer.
“If Alex Salmond was smart, he would stop [building windfarms] right now because what he’s doing to Scotland is terrible. This is the same thing as al-Megrahi, when they let him out of prison because he would die in two weeks. And guess what, he was running around the park last week,” Trump said.
In the end, however, it took the Scottish Green party leader and committee member, Patrick Harvie, to express most succinctly the views of Trump’s critics. As Trump was leaving the committee room, Harvie asked the mogul how he did his traditional victory sign, presenting Trump with two fingers pushed erect into the air. But Harvie’s victory sign was reversed: a widely recognised symbol of something much less polite.
[Donald Trump via lev radin / Shutterstock.com]