Trumpland

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Kenneth Roy

A few weeks before he died, a group of Jimmy Reid’s friends proposed to write to the principal of Glasgow University recommending an honorary doctorate for one of its most celebrated rectors. Jimmy himself, in rapidly failing health, was delighted to hear this news.

Kenneth Roy

A few weeks before he died, a group of Jimmy Reid’s friends proposed to write to the principal of Glasgow University recommending an honorary doctorate for one of its most celebrated rectors. Jimmy himself, in rapidly failing health, was delighted to hear this news.
     It would have surprised many of those approached to help with this initiative – it certainly surprised me – that he had not been honoured long ago. His brilliant rectorial speech was rated highly enough to be published by the New York Times; at his funeral in August, Alex Salmond said he regarded it as the finest political speech of his lifetime. Yet many years were allowed to elapse without any formal acknowledgement from the university of the remarkable impact of his rectorship.
     I thought of Jimmy Reid and the campaign to confer honour on a Scottish prophet in his own land when I heard the news that Robert Gordon University is to bestow an honorary degree in business administration (DBA) on the tycoon Donald Trump at what is being described as a ‘special ceremony’ on 8 October.
     The trivialisation of honorary degrees is a minor phenomenon of the age. If a university wants to look trendy, or at least vaguely in touch with the exciting pages of Hello! magazine, it will dress up a pop singer, a newsreader or a sports personality in a faintly ridiculous costume and invite the photographers along. We saw it recently at St Andrews, when doctorates were dished out to some American golfers. The practice probably does no great harm, except to the fading cause of academic respectability.
     But the award for Trump, from a university based in the north-east of Scotland, is in a different class. It is not only provocative but offensive. The official statement from Robert Gordon University claims that it is ‘in recognition of his business acumen and entrepreneurial vision, and the long-term future his company is planning for the north-east’. In the words of the legendary Fleet Street editor, John Junor: Fetch the sick bag, Alice.


Encouraged, indeed toadied to, by two successive Holyrood administrations, he has been allowed to proceed with scant regard for environmental protection and the integrity of SSI sites.


     Let’s look at the first half of the citation – the business acumen and the entrepreneurial vision. The vision is not in doubt. Trump made his name as a property developer, particularly of casinos in Atlantic City and elsewhere. His contribution to the gambling industry has earned him a place in the Gaming Hall of Fame. He is part-owner of Miss Universe and Miss Teen USA. The annual Donald J Trump Award honours individuals who make a significant impact on the ‘evolution, development and perpetuation of real estate’. As I say, the vision is not in doubt. The track record on business acumen is more mixed, although his fortunes have recovered from a low point in the early 1990s when he nearly went bust.
     Let’s look at the second half of the citation – his work in securing the long-term future of the north-east. It may have escaped the notice of the people in charge of Robert Gordon University – I can think of no other reasonable explanation – that Trump’s purchase of the Menie estate for a golf course and related tourist development has provoked a depth and bitterness of opposition without parallel in recent Scottish history. His golf course is being built on a site of special scientific interest. Encouraged, indeed toadied to, by successive Holyrood administrations, he has been allowed to proceed with scant regard for environmental protection and the integrity of SSI sites. ‘It seems that existing protocols can be conveniently brushed aside for the benefit of Trump,’ said the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Quite.
     Martin Ford, the Aberdeenshire councillor whose casting vote led to the defeat of the original planning application, paid for his principled opposition: he was fired as convener of the council’s infrastructure committee. Other opponents of the scheme have suffered, too, none more than Michael Forbes, a small landowner on the Menie estate, who has been told by Trump that he lives in a pigsty. ‘If we build a £400 million hotel,’ Trump said, ‘I don’t think you want the windows looking down on a slum.’
     In the face of the Trump bulldozers – construction work began in early July – the owner of the ‘pigsty’ refuses to budge. Scores of good people, including some prominent ones, have come to Michael Forbes’s aid and clubbed together to buy an acre of his land, close to what will be the eighth and ninth holes of ‘the world’s greatest golf course’. Although this collective action has not succeeded in halting the development, it will continue to obstruct it and give Mr Forbes moral support.


Donald Trump has entrepreneurial vision, but it is not a vision instinctively shared by many people in Scotland, nor is it a vision most of us would care to pass on to our children.


     What, then, is the benefit to the north-east of a project so hostile to the environment and to intelligent opinion? We are told it will create jobs. How many is less certain. Golf clubs are not the cash cows they were a decade ago; in Ayrshire, where I live, there is not much evidence of activity on the various new courses which sprang up when golf was a more fashionable sport and the world a more prosperous place. But the possibility that Donald Trump is backing a loser, and that his scheme will contribute nothing to the long-term future of the north-east, is the least of the offence caused by Robert Gordon University. Donald Trump has entrepreneurial vision, but it is not a vision instinctively shared by many people in Scotland, nor is it a vision most of us would care to pass on to our children.
     The chancellor of Robert Gordon University, Sir Ian Wood, disagrees. Sir Ian is the tycoon responsible for the scheme to rip up Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen and concrete it over to create a ‘civic square’. He will personally confer the honorary degree on Trump.
     Meanwhile, it is too late for Jimmy Reid.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Kenneth Roy.

Read Kenneth Roy at the Scottish Review.