National disgrace, scoundrel and extremist

The untouched dune system.
The mobile sand sheet moved 5-15m north each year, leaving behind a time series of botanical
colonisation, one of the finest examples of such in northern Europe.
I'm often asked why this blogs normal title is National disgrace, scoundrel and extremist.  This phrase evokes to me a significant change in my political life.  And explaining that might also explain how money-politics works. 

In 2005, I was approached by representatives of Trump who wanted to outline to me, as local councillor, their plan to turn the shooting estate of Menie into a golf resort.  What they outlined was a 250 bedroom hotel, a golf course, maybe some staff accommodation and perhaps some other housing.  At this stage, it was clear that they'd been in discussions with the council planners and up to Chief Executive level for some time.

In March 2006, they went public with an announcement that they were in May going to submit an application for a 250 bedroom hotel, two golf courses and a holiday home complex, valued at £300 million, creating 400 jobs and in piled the local business interest saying this would put the north-east of Scotland on the map with Shiona Baird, Green MSP being the only cautionary voice.   

By the summer, the resort has grown to a £1 billion investment with a 450 bedroomn hotel and a thousand holiday homes.  Even more ra-ra from local business interests - obviously £1 billion is three times better than £300m - and there couldn't possibly be any downsides - could there?.

The resort proposal
When finally submitted in November 2006, the resort consisted of a 450 bedroom hotel, 950 holiday apartments, 36 golf villas and a village of 900 open market houses.

Now as councillor, you are stuck with making no comment on planning applications, as you could be deemed to prejudge the application.  So silence from me and meanwhile an enormous PR effort.

In the summer of 2007, I was lobbied by both local MP, Malcolm Bruce to the effect of 'You must pass the Trump thing, else the SNP will get the credit' and in favour of Trump by the then local MSP Nora Radcliffe. It was clear that the Trump PR machine was working at all political levels.  The Scottish Government has already added Trump to Global Scots - a group meant to promote Scotland's interests abroad.   MPs and MSPs had been intensively lobbied.  So had many -but not all - councillors.  And the business and tourist community had been fully briefed and were raising their voice loudly in support. 

Trump 'sensitively' resculpting the sand
dunes to make his golf course.
The problem with the application was simple: it trashed - literally bulldozed - a site of scientic interest in order to build a hotel and holiday complex.  And it built 900 houses on farmland where no village had been planned into order to pay for it.  Talk of £1 billion pound investment was fantasy - it was the sale of open market housing paying for the development.  Lots of environmental damage.  A thousand, mainly low pay,  jobs - in a area where unemployment was less than 1%, house prices are high and there is a shortage of affordable housing.  None would be included in the 'exclusive' Menie estate development.

In October 2007 there was a planning hearing lasting some 5 hours and in November, there were two meetings, first of the local Area Committee which approved the development and then famous Infrastructure Services Committee where Martin Ford used his casting vote to turn down Trump rather than sending the applicaion back for renegotiation - few councillors wanted to grant outright. 

And that was when all hell let lose.

The leader of the Council vowed 'I will do everything in my power to keep this application alive'.  The media went in to frenzy mode.  Martin took the brunt but I answered the phone to media and did countless interviews that day.   At 8am the following morning, I was scheduled to do a live interview with Radio Scotland.  A woman appeared on my doorstep shortly before this and, shouting obsenities at me, tried to assult me on my own doorstep.  I was too shaken to do the interview.   It was awful.  Thousands of emails.  Front page of the local newspaper with Traitor as the headline.  

By the end of the following week, Martin was no longer the chair of the Infrastructure Services Committee, the application had been called in by the Scottish Government - an unprecendented step for an application that had already been properly determined - and there was a deep rift in the LibDems on Aberdeenshire between those that opposed Trump and those that supported him.

Aberdeenshire Council agreed to permit a 5m tall bund
to built around the Leyton Cottage on the Menie estate

I battled on, doing my job as councillor, especially to protect the rights of the Menie residents not be be harrassed and hemmed in and to maintain open public access to the Menie Estate (see here and here).

It was at this period when Donald Trump, a bit touchy at my opposition, wrote an open letter to the press (and sent me a copy some 6 hours later) where he called me a national disgrace, scoundrel and extremist.  I am patently none of those things - but I rather like the accolade from this birther and climate change denier.   
Eventually the rift in Aberdeenshire Council grew so deep and the behaviour of some councillors was so vile, that I left the LibDems, followed by Martin.  Martin joined the Greens immediately: I didn't join the Greens until October 2009.  I loved the welcome I got.  Linda Hendry, who I'd known for years from when I lived in Edinburgh said 'You've taken your time', which I took as a welcome and an indication that she'd regarded me as a green for a long time.  It was coming home.

What happenned at Menie was simple.  Lots of people, whose job it was to contain a crocodile, didn't do their job.  The zookeepers helped the crocodile rather than keeping it in its enclosure.  Why? Because they were blinded by a slick PR campaign and the idea that a couple of golf courses could replace the oil industry.  Laughable, if it wasn't so sad. 

But out of a very horrible time comes good:  

People know who I am.  I am still recognised and approached by people who tell me that I did right in regard to Trump - including by some who say they thought I was wrong at the time but now understand.

People know what I stand for.  I spent weeks looking at the evidence.  The 'right' of the matter was very clear to me at the time and I haven't changed my mind.  And I was left as one of the few voices raised to oppose Trump.  People - the Menie residents - and the environment matter.  And the economy, while important, must make sense in terms of actual benefit and actual investment not just be a matter of £000000000.

And they know I mean it.  Trump doesn't cope with No very well - he doesn't often meet it.  He tried every trick to intimidate me.  It wasn't pleasant but it didn't work. I survived and can smile about it now.  It's good to know that when presented with a choice, I did what was right not what was easy. 

Local - Experienced - Proven
The fallout thereafter at Menie is documented on this blog (Earlier material was lost as I blogged on the LibDem's own platform).  Click on Menie or Trump in the Cloud to the right to read more.  And if you want a fuller, less personal picture, then there are excellent papers by Martin Ford and Andy Wightman.

Tripping Up Trump continue to support the Menie residents.
Trump continues to harrass the residents.  Please support them on the Tripping Up Trump Facebook page.  While a golf course is built and Menie House and the adjacent steadings have been converted to holiday accommodation, the club house is about a third of the original size.   The Menie development hasn't been a success and Trump is now stamping his mark on classic Turnberry and Doonbeg in Ireland.    

1 comment:

  1. I was quite unaware of the extremes of this topic. I find myself very saddened that such a unique, special asset to Scotland was destroyed with so little care and so little feedback from Scottish Government. I wonder if there are any regrets.


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