02.14.12

Can Donald Trump Save Scotland?

Not content with shaping the GOP presidential field, Donald Trump has trained his sights on bigger game: saving Scotland. Alex Massie on the windbag’s wind-farm madness.

Connoisseurs of low farce and political absurdity have reason to be disappointed with Donald Trump. The real-estate mogul's flirtation with running for the Republican Party's presidential nomination was a grand, if also ridiculous, entertainment that ended with an unbecoming and uncharacteristic whimper. If Herman Cain could, for a while, be thought a quarter-credible candidate, why could The Donald not strut upon the national stage as the star of his own bouffant opera buffa?

Perhaps Mr. Trump appreciated that saving the United States from itself was too big a task even for the Lion of Park Avenue. Or it may be that Trump was saving himself for a different, possibly more modest task: saving Scotland

The land of his forebears—his mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was born on the Hebridean island of Lewis—faces a crisis scarcely without peril in its long, often war-tossed history. This time, however, Scotland is not threatened by an invading English army but by an altogether stealthier foe: windmills. It falls to Trump—nobly bearing the burden of history, it must be said—to assume the role of Robert the Bruce or William Wallace, the great heroes of the 14th-century wars of independence. 

The cause of this trouble? The Scottish government's pending approval of an offshore wind farm within sight (on a rare clear day) of the "billion dollar" golf course and resort Trump is building north of Aberdeen on Scotland's east coast. 

Alex Salmond, the first minister, who plans to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, is accused by Trump of "singlehandedly" doing "more damage to Scotland than virtually any event in Scottish history." 

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Donald Trump on a visit to the construction site of his golf course near Aberdeen, Scotland (Derek Blair / AFP-Getty Images)

Poor Mr. Trump, ever the modest warrior, is taking up arms on our behalf. Writing to Salmond, he claims to "have just authorized 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."

Demonstrating his mastery of modern media, Trump has also uploaded a video to YouTube in which he warns that "never before in the history of Scotland has a disaster like this taken place.” He is, of course, correct. English invasions or the execution of Mary Queen of Scots by her cousin Elizabeth I of England are trifles compared with the horror of an offshore wind farm. What's more, Trump is a big-hearted naturalist: we must think, he insists, of the "thousands" of birds that will be killed by the windmills that threaten his golfing paradise. 

It is all very sad. Trump and Salmond were once the best of friends. It was Salmond's government that overruled local objections to the tycoon's plans for two golf courses, a hotel, and hundreds of villas to be built on the extraordinarily spectacular Menie Sands. Back then, Trump praised Salmond's vision. Here was a statesman cut, you sensed he sensed, from the same cloth as Trump himself. 

English invasions or the execution of Mary Queen of Scots by her cousin Elizabeth I of England are trifles compared with the horror of an offshore wind farm.

Unfortunately, it turns out that renewable energy is, after independence, Salmond's other big idea. His government believes Scotland's generally pestilential climate can be a "green energy" blessing. It has set a target for the country to provide for 100 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. This is but the first step: Scotland has an opportunity to become a major energy exporter, supplementing its oil reserves with the bounty provided by its winds and tides. Grandiose phrases like "the Saudi Arabia" of European green energy are bandied about, backed by suggestions that as much as a quarter of Europe's capacity for wind-generated electricity lies in Scottish territorial waters. 

Trump sees it differently. "Taxing your citizens to subsidize 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."

Trump's claims are not entirely baseless. Like many other projects in Scotland, the 11 turbines that may be built one and a half miles offshore from his golf course are part of a development led by Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company. "Luckily," he says, "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." 

Since golf tourism is worth an estimated $400 million a year to the Scottish economy, Trump's claims would, if true, be worth listening to. It must be said, however, that "if true" is a hefty qualification. You may think it improbable that windmills could make St. Andrews, Turnberry, Carnoustie, Troon, and the other championship courses scattered across golf's homeland an unattractive destination, but, let's face it, you're not Donald Trump and he is. 

Trump's foes are enjoying his latest windy outburst. One local resident opposed to the developers' plans told The Scotsman that Trump's letter to the first minister was nothing more than "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.”

The view in these parts is that Trump is, to borrow from the Texas vernacular, "all hat and no cattle.” The impact of the great crash of 2008 has already helped delay the construction of the "luxury" hotel and "luxury" McMansions upon which much of the financial reward of his development depends. This has led to—unworthy, surely!—suspicions that Trump is secretly looking for a way out of his development and has latched onto the windmill issue as a useful escape hatch from a project too grandiose even for a corporate titan of his appetite and abilities.  

Salmond's domestic opponents have been wondering who will emerge to lead the troops determined to thwart the first minister's ambitions for Scottish independence and preserve the union between Scotland and England. Now that Trump is founding this supposed "international organization" to topple wind turbines, how long before he moves his forces to defend the United Kingdom itself from Salmond's separatism? 

In the scheme of history, there are plenty of American presidents, not all of whom are remembered by posterity. Trump now has a higher calling still: saving Scotland from herself! As the Declaration of Arbroath, the 1320 document that confirmed Scotland's independence from English subjugation, claimed: "It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom—for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself." Even The Donald might admit that The Donald couldn't put it better than that. And, as he warns Salmond, the fight is just beginning: "You will be long gone, but the people of Scotland will forever suffer."

Low farce and political absurdity? Absolutely. And we should all be grateful to Donald Trump for the entertainment he provides on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.