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Lesley Riddoch

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Trump Blows Into Town

Posted: 26/04/2012 00:00

Hollywood took on Holyrood yesterday - and Holyrood won.

Donald Trump swept theatrically into the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh intent on halting construction of a pioneering offshore wind turbine test centre near his controversial golf course, north of Aberdeen. But faced with the polite, persistent questioning of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), Trump visibly ran out of steam. It was no McKnockout - but the American billionaire certainly lost on points. Now it remains to be seen if his £750 million plans for a hotel, leisure complex and housing will ever go ahead and if the "best course in the world" - will open as planned on 10 July this year.

A dozen cross-party members of the Scottish Parliament's Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee had taken their seats before a capacity audience of press, public, photographers and cameramen when the distinctively coiffed Trump entered Committee Room One. Swaggering like a well-dressed prize fighter The Donald surveyed the room with a combative grin, flanked by dark-suited minders including son Donald Junior and manager George Sorial.

After several provocative TV and radio interviews, the audience was waiting with bated breath for "new and extra" information about promises allegedly made to Trump by erstwhile supporter Alex Salmond. But though James Murdoch landed a blow on the SNP leader at the Leveson Enquiry earlier this week, Trump's follow-up punch failed to materialise. There was a small ripple of laughter when the billionaire nodded his fellow American's testimony - "Salmond's denying everything today." But so too was The Donald.

The headline-grabbing star of the American Apprentice offered no new evidence to prove he'd been improperly "lured in" to make a massive investment in Scotland. Did two Scottish First Ministers make false promises of a turbine-free coast in writing - The Donald changed the subject.

"I am the evidence," said Trump without a hint of irony (or humility) when MSPs wanted facts to substantiate claims that turbines damage birds, tourism and jobs. The public gallery tittered.

Asked if his approach was basically, "My mind's made up - don't trouble me with the facts", Trump replied with an eyebrow-raising non-sequitur: "That's the same kind of thinking that gave us Megrahi (the Lockerbie bomber). He was meant to be dead after two weeks but he's still running around a park."

Calls of "shame" and "get out" from the public turned into a sharp intake of breath when Trump's Scottish minder George Sorial added, "just because you (the Scottish Government) are democratically elected doesn't mean you have the right to impose all of your policies."

What?

If this is business and democracy American-style it served only to unite a normally fractious group of MSPs behind Alex Salmond's pro-renewables energy policy. The Donald has indeed done the impossible - uniting politicians of all political persuasions behind the SNP's Green Energy drive just days before local elections. Is it possible Alex Salmond was actually paying him?

Indeed an MSP cited an opinion poll which showed more than 90% of the public were more likely to back wind power as a result of Trump's recent conduct and comments. Trump replied with gusto that it was easy to concoct a good result - after all an opinion poll conducted for the Trump Organisation had found 93% backing for his plans. Was that really what he meant to say?

Discussion focussed on the impact of wind turbines on tourism. A few days ago, VisitScotland published poll findings that 80% of the public would not change their holiday decisions because of wind farms. Nonetheless, Trump argued turbines are "so unattractive and so ugly you'll lose your tourism industry completely."

What about the golf course at Royal St George's in England - another MSP asked. It's been flanked by a coal fired power station and wind turbine for many years and still pulls in Championship events.

Was there any evidence the pulling power of the course had been damaged? Trump changed the subject. Another MSP pointed out that in the northern Orkney Islands 100% of energy is produced by onshore wind turbines - yet Orkney visitor numbers are growing faster than the UK average. Trump replied that he knew nothing about Orkney and that these must be "appropriately sited" turbines.

If anyone was looking for a killer blow on either side it plainly wasn't going to happen.

Then Trump moved onto the promises made by former First Minister Jack McConnell. He said the Labour First Minister had assured him turbines would always be vetoed around the oil capital because of possible interference with radar and shipping lanes. That "assurance" was why he had chosen to build his course in Aberdeenshire in preference to Ireland or his "native" Hebridean Lewis.

So was Trump misled? MSPs pressed the hotel-magnate with evidence of dates. The test centre for offshore turbines had been proposed in 2002 and 20 public consultation meetings held before Trump bought the Menie Estate in 2006. A month later Trump was describing the wind project as a "deal killer" and yet he had already bought the land.

All eyes turned to Trump but... he changed the subject again.

"Phoney and totally random targets in Scotland cannot fight climate change because China is decimating the atmosphere. Scotland is 20 years behind the times because wind farms are being abandoned all over the world." Never mind that Bill Gates is urging the US to invest massively in renewables while they still can.

Faced with a list of Scottish companies investing in renewables, Trump insisted all new jobs were going to China. Faced with the fact all energy sources are subsidised (fossil fuels get £3.7 bn against renewables £1.4bn) Trump said wind turbines are falling to pieces and will have to be replaced every five years.

It was like being in a parallel universe.

So what's the conclusion? Wind energy will continue to divide Scots. Donald Trump's appalling high-handed behaviour towards local Scots on "his estate" - a subject not raised today - will continue to unite Scots against him. Hollywood came and Hollywood left. Meanwhile, the modest, planet-saving business of trying to produce affordable, sustainable energy in Scotland continues.

 

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