Money talks. It talks with arrogance and disdain.
If any other man with the bizarre comb-over of Donald Trump flounced into an Aberdeenshire hall, he would be ridiculed and laughed out of town. But Trump has deep pockets. $3bn deep, give or take a few millions, and his recent regal tour of Scotland had risible echoes of Local Hero.
Horns of a dilemma: it's dollars versus Scottish conservation
Read more on the grough BogBlog.
For those not conversant with the 1983 Bill Forsyth update of Whisky Galore, an avaricious oil magnate attempts to buy a whole Scottish village and the locals can smell the money a mile off, fawning all over the company’s representatives in the hope of carrying off barrowloads of cash when their crumbling cottages and crofts are bought for a small fortune.
Just down the road from Pennan where much of the film was shot, is the Menie estate, for which Trump has big plans and the council has dollar signs in its eyes. But there’s a fly in the ointment. Martin Ford, a Liberal Democrat councillor cast his vote against the billionaire’s vision and incurred the wrath of his fellow representatives. Just as Fulton Mackay’s beachcomber character Ben faces an angry crowd as he stands between oil dollars and the village inhabitants, so Ford has become a figure of loathing in Aberdeenshire as he threatens Donald J Trump’s plan for an exclusive resort for millionaire businessmen to thrash around a few little white balls before retiring to the Jacuzzi.
The owner of the Trump empire made a vain attempt to soften his hard-nosed image. His flying visit to his maternal home in Stornoway lasted just 97 seconds. Felix Happer he ain’t.
Trump’s disbelief that the simple Aberdonians could be so foolish as to turn up their noses at his billions was palpable. ‘Take it or leave it’ he barked at the public inquiry. But there’s a problem for Trump. In fact, there are several problems.
The site where he wants to build his resort – including a world-class golf course, five-star hotel, timeshare flats, golf academy and exclusive chalets, all centred on the modestly named Trump Boulevard – is a Site of Special Scientific Importance. And it’s access land.
Trump is rich: he doesn’t do detail, he gets others to do the thinking for him. And then he ignores them, because he can. His specialists told him to avoid the internationally renowned sand dunes at Menie. He never read the reports. Anyway, he told the inquiry chairman James McCulloch, the dunes are ‘sort of disgusting’. There are dead birds there.
Did he realise that the great unwashed Scottish public had a right to walk all over any golf course he planned to build, due to an inconvenient little piece of legislation called the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003? Pah – sunbathing and golf don’t mix. Who wants to sit with their family on the dunes when there are golf balls flying about?
Trump is only the latest – though by far the most prominent – exponent of the ideal that laws can be overcome by wads of cash.
One of the first, Ann Gloag, convinced Sheriff Michael Fletcher her Kinfauns estate was so important that the hard-fought land reforms, designed to allow every Scot access to his or her countryside, should not apply. One almost expected him to comment on Mrs Gloag’s fragrant nature.
Next up was Euan Snowie, less fragrant for sure – his family firm made its millions transporting carcasses during the 2001 foot-and-mouth-disease epidemic – who tried on the same trick at Boquhan to no avail. This time, Sheriff Andrew Cubie saw through Snowie’s case and threw it out. Nice try.
Let’s travel north-west from the carrion-ridden sands of Menie to the rolling acres of Alladale, where walkers roam free and shelter from the biting north-easterlies in the bothy, en route to Seana Bhraigh. Well, they could, but now they can’t because Paul Lister, another multi-millionaire, wants to erect a nine-foot high electric fence around his 23,000-acre estate so he can put wild animals in there and offer a premium experience to moneyed guests. And the bothy is closed; it has earning potential.
There is a curious acquiescence among some country dwellers to anyone with a few millions in the bank or a title before his name. grough had a steady stream of comments from supporters of Mr Lister after we covered his case. Oddly, none of them seemed regular contributors to the outdoor news website. A suspicious mind might think they had been prompted.
The common thread to all the cases, from Trump to Gloag, is that laws are a mere inconvenience. What does it matter that some of the most fragile terrain is at risk? There’s money to be made. Right to roam? Right to make profits, squire!
Even Alex Salmond, the would-be leader of an independent Scotland, seems to have fallen under the spell of the greenback. Or maybe he was transfixed by the comb-over.
Scotland’s wild lands are at risk from the same attitudes it has spent centuries fighting. Why swap the colonisation by the forces of Albion for the forces of the Stock Exchange.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act was probably one of the most impressive and forward-looking pieces of legislation passed in the British Isles for a long time. Its ethos is in danger.
In Local Hero, Ben offers oil-company negotiator Mac his beach for as many pounds as there are grains of sand in his fist. Mac feels cheated by what he feels is his sleight-of-hand. The people of Scotland are in danger of being tricked just as comprehensively by the magnates’ offer of jobs and prosperity.
In the end, sense prevailed in the film and Felix Happer was won over by the beauty of the Scottish landscape. Somehow, I don’t think Mr Trump will follow suit: he has men to do his thinking for him.