By Ian Drummond
There was an old Soviet joke that the future remains certain but the past is always changing. And while the future for Scotland’s own dominant party the SNP must always be independence, it seems not only the present path towards it but even the past, of the party and even the reasons for which it says it wants separation, are a set of ever changing goalposts. Who now would want to be in Alex Salmond’s “arc of prosperity” between Iceland and “Celtic tiger” Ireland, with their neoliberal success stories? And whatever happened to “once in a generation”, or the strange claim that separatism was all about doing the left wing Scottish Labour Party a favour?
But perhaps the most egregious of all airbrushed pasts is that which passed between the, for now, still Teflon SNP and the most hated man of the moment, Donald Trump. Trump may often seem more like a comic book character than a real life politician, and his relations with the SNP have definitely been retconned as thoroughly as his fictional fellow billionaires Lex Luthor and Batman.
To hear them talk now, you’d think the SNP were in the vanguard of proud Scotia, sending Trump homeward to think again. Its true that they eventually fell out over his extreme tilting at offshore windmills anywhere near his Aberdeenshire golfcourse. But this belated stand for their own building project looks less impressive when contrasted with the stand they didn’t take for the people affected by Trump’s vanity project, in fact the stand they took against them. Which not only let Trump in, but in its shameless pandering was probably what gave him the idea he could dictate energy policy as well in the first place.
While Jack McConnel’s New Labour administration in its last days did make Trump a Business Ambassador for Scotland and also back the very early stages of his golf plan, a fact the SNP now like to hide their own government’s actions behind, it was the recently elected SNP government that not only courted and vocally supported him, but even inserted themselves into local planning issues on his behalf. When Aberdeenshire Council rejected his plans to build on land that included some of the most unique sand dunes in Europe and was an environmentally protected site, it was the Scottish Government that overruled them and gave Trump the green light. They rationalised that the promised investment and jobs outweighed the environmental concerns, but almost a decade later the economic benefits have never materialised.
Having run roughshod over the Scottish environment, Trump then ran roughshod over the Scottish people and embarked on a campaign to drive out undesirable locals. Farmer Michael Forbes became the symbol of local resistance as Trump pulled out all the stops to kick him off his land and knock down his house on the basis that it was would be an eyesore for the kind of top 1% clientele he wanted for his luxury golfcourse. The fact it was on Forbes’ own land and not Trump’s didn’t matter, from Trump’s perspective it being in the line of view was cause enough for a compulsory purchase order and even, in 2011, to fence off a piece of land to which Forbes had the title deeds. Trump called the pretty average farmhouse a “slum”, while his son Donald Jr oozed contempt for Forbes and his ordinary lifestyle, seemingly oblivious to how he looked, in the revealing film You’ve Been Trumped.
Eventually Forbes was popularly elected Glenfidditch Whiskey’s Top Scot in honour of his struggle against Trump to keep his land. Donald Jr grudged him even that, musing that Andy Murray was surely a much more important Scot! And Alex Salmond, Forbes’ constituency MP and MSP as well as First Minister, still refused to apologise for taking Trump’s side in the attempt to railroad one of his own constituents.
This despite the fact that by then, in 2012, the windfarm clash was brewing, and Donald Jr was later to try and do his own rewriting of history casting Salmond as an “enemy” from 2009 onwards, when he says his father declined a request to back the release of Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi in return for no windfarms at the golfcourse. And while the SNP now claim “no one could have known” what kind of racist, even proto-fascist, figure Trump would become when they were dealing with him, by 2012 Trump had already entered the political arena with his vile and absurd “birther” campaign against Obama, yet Salmond was still siding with him against Forbes.
In fact his whole attitude and actions towards the ordinary people of Aberdeenshire conclusively puts the lie to Trump’s then image as a harmless, relatable funnyman of American reality TV culture. Let alone, and much more so, to his new persona as a crusading man of the people. In fact he stands exposed as one of the most nakedly contemptuous opponents of the little guy in the whole 1%. While his greed and avarice may be unremarkable for someone in his position, and his flaunting of his wealth in his hotels, casinos and TV show is often done in a way that’s more entertaining than alienating, his visceral dislike for the poor or even averagely-off for not being rich stands exposed by his actions and recorded attitudes in Scotland. The people of America should take note.
However his place as one of the most unacceptable faces of the super-rich should not make his association with the SNP any more surprising. In fact the SNP’s relations with and courting of such people is more reminiscent of Tony Blair than anything to do with real Labour or the current Labour Party leadership. It was the homophobic billionaire Brian Soutar who largely bankrolled the SNP and the official Yes campaign. He had experience of referendums, you see, as the man who privately ran his own as part of his campaign against the abolition of Thatcher’s vile homophobic Section 28.
And in the wake of the Madeleine McCann phone hacking revelations, while the rest of the British political class shunned Rupert Murdoch, some bravely taking a lead like Ed Milliband and others forced to for a time like David Cameron, Salmond struck up a new and golden phase of his own relationship with Murdoch. For a time it looked as if the serial patriot was certain to come out for a Yes vote and in the end his papers only pulled back because it was clear Yes were very unlikely to win. But he still managed to vent his vendetta against Britain in general and Ed Milliband’s Labour in particular with the Sun backing the SNP in Scotland, with Nicola Sturgeon portrayed as Princess Leia, even as the same paper in England backed the Tories “to keep out the SNP”. And in this election, in the week that the Sun refused to acknowledge the Hillsborough verdict on its front page, it did find space on the front page for another endorsement of the SNP, this time with Nicola as Captain Kirk!
And if it’s no surprise then that Salmond and Trump fell in with each other, it’s also no surprise and no particular credit to either of them that they eventually fell out. Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter famously quipped that her father and Winston Churchill got on so badly because they were too alike, and the similarities between Trump and Salmond, Trumpism and the SNP, are actually uncanny. Both Trump and Salmond have a barnstorming barnum style of political campaigning that can actually be very attractive and effective when compared to the robotic, managerial style that mainstream politicians on both sides of the isle and on both sides of the pond have taken in recent decades. Both, to their credit, opposed the Iraq war at the time and can now claim prescience over the likes of Hillary and Blairite New Labour (with which the SNP like to conflate Labour as a whole).
And both channel legitimate anger at a political system that doesn’t even attempt to work for ordinary people into a politics of false hope, misplaced blame and division. Build a wall, or create a border. And always make the southern neighbour pay! The rage, ugly passions and extreme nationalism on show at the Trump rallies is actually very similar to the dark underbelly of the vibrant and civic Yes campaign that many of us who took a different view came to be more acquainted with than we’d have liked during the referendum. And while the fraudulent, as well as extreme right wing, nature of the Trump campaign should be obvious, a victory for Yes, while not a far-right vote in the same way, also could not possibly have delivered what it promised. In fact it could have led to austerity max as the oil price plummeted and the Sterling zone gave a Tory England the same power over a fragile startup economy as Germany has over Greece.
The correct response to the SNP and to Trump is also parallel. It is not to put people back in the box of politics as usual and pretend that the alienation and pent up frustrations that have been released are illegitimate figments of the imagination, but to direct the anger at its real source in a broken political establishment and economic model rather than at scapegoats, while bringing working and ordinary people together rather than driving them apart.
And such a fine sounding thing isn’t just an idle dream either, but eminently pragmatically possible. Bernie Sanders running as a proud socialist in the USA is way ahead of Trump in the polls, and if he were the Democrat nominee all projections are that he’d crush the billionaire blowhard in a landslide. Hillary Clinton, who stands for the establishment capture of progressive politics that in this country was represented by Blair and killed Labour for a time allowing the SNP their opening, is still projected to beat Trump but more narrowly. Not only is Clinton scandal ridden, with any further scandal threatening to hand the White House to Trump by default, her brand of establishment, pro-war politics has no chance of winning over anyone considering a protest vote for Trump, while Bernie’s campaign eloquently makes the pragmatic case for socialist, real Labour politics as the antidote to the far right and political delusion of all kinds.
That’s why also in Scotland real Labour, Corbyn Labour, is required if we are to keep our country together as we not that long ago voted to do. The Tories say they stand for the 55% and claim to be a better opposition to the SNP, but in fact their percentage is the 24% of the electorate who voted for this vile and inept government, elected in much of England on what a right wing supporter in the neocon Standpoint magazine admiringly called a “nasty anti-Scottish campaign”. Thankfully only a rogue poll put the Tories in second place, as nothing could be worse than the polarisation of Scottish politics for the next five years between separatism and support for the likes of the bedroom tax.
But Labour must also take note of the pragmatic case for Corbynism that Scotland more than anywhere else makes. Be Sanders, not Clinton, and we can overcome the Scottish friends of Soutar, Murdoch, and Trump.