Brian Wilson:Scotland’s shame on the big screen
A film about Donald Trump’s Scots golf resort is winning awards, yet it has barely been seen here, writes Brian Wilson
I had the unusual pleasure the other night of watching a multi-award-winning Scottish film and then joining a panel to discuss it. For good measure, the director was beamed in from San Francisco, where he was collecting yet another gong.
The words “multi-award-winning Scottish film” are found in conjunction so seldom that you might expect everyone to know about it when one comes along. Not so, for the film in question is called You’ve Been Trumped, and its Scottish outlets to date have been minuscule. That seems a shame.
From Bucharest to Brisbane and Denver to St Louis, festival juries have been lavishing it with awards: 15 at the last count and rising. They are well deserved. Yet the prophet has no honour in his own land. You might almost think Scotland is protecting itself from a guilty feeling – and you might be right.
You’ve Been Trumped has been on the road for more than a year now, trundling round the village halls and arts centres of Scotland, while winning acclaim abroad. But its significance relates to the present and future as well as to past events. Will Scotland ever learn that genuflecting to vulgar wealth demeans us – and rarely delivers what it promises?
The inspiration for You’ve Been Trumped was simple. Its director, Anthony Baxter, has family connections with Brechin. When he heard the residents of Menie Estate being grossly maligned by Donald Trump and his henchmen, his instincts told him that this was far from being the full story. So he went and talked to these people.
You’ve Been Trumped should make a lot of people feel guilty, and not just the obvious ones such as the Scottish Government and Grampian Police. It might cause the Scottish media to take a critical look at itself. And frankly it made me feel a little shabby, merely as a Scottish citizen who has been vaguely aware of what was going on at Menie without taking enough interest.
I now know it is an absolute disgrace that Trump has been allowed to get away with what he has. Forget his solitary golf course for the moment. I am referring to the dreadful way in which the people who got in his way on Menie Estate were spoken of and hounded by him; in particular Michael Forbes, who became the symbol of resistance to Trump’s ambitions.
Repeatedly, Trump used phrases such as “pigs living in a slum” to describe his adversaries. These were faithfully reported and a picture established. Many who had no empathy with Trump bought into the caricature that he set out to establish by means of brutal repetition; a trick from the beginner’s book of PR alchemy. And we failed to defend the people who were the victims of that attack.
Until, that is, Anthony Baxter came along. He found that one of Michael Forbes’s neighbours, whose home was under threat of compulsory purchase and who had been regularly pilloried by Trump, had never been spoken to by a single journalist. And, of course, once she and the other beleaguered residents of Menie Estate spoke for themselves, an entirely different picture emerged.
They were decent people with deep roots in the place – none more so than Michael Forbes – and they had most certainly not chosen this fight. Yet most of Scotland looked the other way while they were traduced and harassed in the most appalling manner because they tried to resist what was being visited upon them. And the PR guff which flowed from the Trump camp was swallowed whole.
Yet where has that led us to today? The dunes that were until three years ago protected by the highest level of environmental designation in Europe have been vandalised to an extent that I am sure would astonish 99 per cent of any audience that saw this film. Hundreds of trees were removed like matchsticks. Huge artificial mounds were built in front of people’s houses. And for what?
The development is stuck at one golf course. The luxury hotel has disappeared into cloud cuckoo land, and the 1,500 houses might or might not ever happen. And now Trump is using the proposed presence of his development to block proposals for the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre – the official designation of this trial wind turbine scheme – that have been around in the North-east for a lot longer than he has.
There is a clip in the film from the early days of his arrival at Menie where he observes: “When I look out on the 18th hole of Trump International Golf Links, to be honest with you, I want to see the ocean. I don’t want to see windmills.” So he was aware of the proposal from the outset, yet went ahead on that basis. That, frankly, is his problem – not Scotland’s.
Already, it seems, the marine consultation process has been extended to accommodate his tantrums. But last week, a report by the Department of Energy and Climate Change put the matter in perspective. The deployment centre will give Aberdeen the lead in a £4 billion industry. The argument in favour of it, long pre-dating either Trump or the current Scottish Government’s rhetoric about renewables, has always been that this was the key to linking offshore renewables to North Sea experience.
Surely there is nobody craven enough to put that prize at risk in order to appease a man whose own promises of jobs and investment are now in urgent need of re-examination. Of course, when he was bulldozing the Scottish planning system with the same efficiency subsequently applied to the Menie site of special scientific interest and the rights of residents, nobody in awe-struck St Andrew’s House was interested in questioning his figures. Maybe they should now.
There are many scenes in You’ve Been Trumped which stick in the memory and the gullet. There are the unctuous images of Robert Gordon University giving him an honorary degree, which leads former principal Dr David Kennedy to hand his back in disgust.
But, worst of all, there is the shocking behaviour of Grampian Police officers who were summoned by one of Trump’s men after Anthony Baxter protested about Michael Forbes’s water supply having been cut off for a week. The film shows one cop making an unprovoked lunge at Baxter before arresting him and his producer on the most spurious of charges. It took 18 months to get a half-hearted apology from Grampian Police and no action has ever been taken against the officer whose act of physical aggression now features at film festivals around the world.
If you don’t believe that these things happen here, then insist on seeing the movie. And if you live in hope that Scotland has learned anything from an experience which has, I believe, already truly humiliated us, then pay close attention to what happens next. Even Trump’s facilitators in Edinburgh – Alex Salmond and his administration – may eventually agree that this is one blowhard and one golf course that Scotland could have done well without.