You've Been Trumped
Scotland loves its golf, but does it love it enough to hand over a Site of Special Scientific Interest to the US billionaire with the dodgy syrup?
In 2006, US billionaire industrialist Donald Trump came sweeping into Scotland with plans to build 1,500 houses, a luxury hotel and two championship golf courses on land that was supposed to be a Site of Special Scientific Interest. 'The greatest thing I've ever done for the environment is what I'll be doing right here in Aberdeen,' Trump declared.
But others, including journalist Anthony Baxter, sprang to the defence of what is described in Baxter's film You've Been Trumped as 'Scotland's equivalent of the Amazon rainforest'. The feature-length documentary, which showed this month at Queen's Film Theatre in association with the Foyle Film Festival, attempts to expose the truth about the goings-on on the Menie Estate that the regional press and Scotland's politicians seem disturbingly eager to bury.
Englishman Baxter, who lives in the town of Montrose, 40 miles from Trump's site, remortgaged his house to fund the project, and he and Trump make delicious adversaries, whether clashing at press junkets or, as revealed during a post-screening Q&A, trading barbs on Twitter. But despite Trump's absurd hairstyle and cartoon-like poses, You've Been Trumped is no comedy
On top of the tycoon's environmental ransacking, he loathsomely brands the residents he wants to displace as 'pigs' and their residences as 'slums'. All you can say in his credit is he does so on camera ('I'm an honest man,' he brays). We see the locals have their water cut off, be accused of the theft of items on their own land, have their property damaged and be invoiced for fences Trump has erected around their homes. It's shocking and blood-boiling stuff.
But for all Trump's ghastliness, the real villains here are the Scottish government (Trump is after the green, but they should know better). Despite the development being rejected by the local council, First Minister Alex Salmond – perhaps wooed by the mogul's projection of 6,000 new jobs, perhaps dazzled by his private jet and blacked-out SUVs – invokes an arcane bit of legislation to allow the deal to go through.
'I'll never vote SNP again,' sighs Menie fisherman Michael Forbes, who refuses to be bullied from his home.
There's talk of compulsory purchase orders – essentially a modern-day version of the Highland Clearances – and repeated public humiliation of the locals, as the Grampian Police just stand back and let it happen. At one point, Baxter is even assaulted by officers while being arrested for filming on the edge of the estate. It's terrifying to think that this is taking place in the UK in the 21st century.
Shame, too, on the Edinburgh Film Festival – which is part-funded by the Scottish government – who, Baxter claims during the Q&A, refused to show what he says is the only Scottish documentary that had been made that year. (He also notes, chillingly, that Northern Ireland was Trump's second choice for the development, had he been unable to proceed in Scotland.)
As the film progresses and every aspect of the Trump plan is debunked by experts and interested parties –environmentalists, economists, even golfers – you begin to wonder what the hell it is Salmond and co have bought into. Their only gain seems to be the chance to swan about at VIP receptions. (At one such bash, we see Trump leering at a former Miss Scotland, dangling a job offer in front of her like a cross between Charlie Sheen and John Newton. 'She could be good for sales,' he snarls to a flunky.)
As a film, You've Been Trumped perhaps skits from one episode to another without fully engaging with some of the issues (more information on Trump's misleading economic forecast would have been nice, for example), and the fact the businessman steadfastly refuses his right to reply makes it unavoidably one-sided, albeit on the side of decency. Visually, it's easy to watch, though the intercutting of clips from the Bill Forsyth film Local Hero, the plot of which the Trump affair echoes, doesn't necessarily work.
But functionally, You've Been Trumped is a marvel. It's a brave and inspiring piece of political filmmaking that should be compulsory viewing. There aren't many here tonight, but a recent broadcast on BBC Two attracted 276 complaints about the Grampian Police's behaviour in the film, so the message that money and power can't be allowed to ride roughshod over people and the planet is certainly spreading.
And you get the sense the story is only just beginning. The first of Trump's golf courses is now open, Baxter tells us, but the rest of the development is on hold while the property magnate stamps his feet over an offshore wind farm he claims will spoil his clients' view. You've Been Trumped 2 should be fascinating.