Donald Trump is not content to bully the residents of just one continent, it seems.
In the mid 1990s, there was Vera Coking, the septuagenarian widow whom Donald Trump tried to squeeze out of her Atlantic City apartment to make room for a limousine parking lot for his nearby casino. Ten years later, in Scotland, trying to foist a golf course and resort onto a stretch of Scottish coastline, Trump encountered a set of equally incorrigible homeowners — and did his best to run them out of their homes, too.
In March 2006, Trump visited Scotland and proposed to build a 36-hole golf course — “the greatest golf course anywhere in the world,” as he would reiterate time and again — along with a 450-room hotel with a conference center and spa, 950 time-share apartments, 36 golf villas, and 500 for-sale houses, and accommodations for hundreds of full-time employees, in Balmedie, Aberdeenshire. He billed it as an economic boon to the country and, in his usual theatrical fashion, as a “homecoming,” waxing poetic about his immigrant mother, who departed Scotland’s Western Isles for the U.S. as a young woman. In reality, it was a vanity project.
“I always wanted to do a golf course in Europe, and of the 211 sites we have looked at, we have seen some incredible places,” said Trump. “But this was something special.” Indeed — more than Trump understood. The Menie Links, north of Aberdeen, is home to the Foveran Links, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The Foveran Links – which is a dynamic dune system that moves several meters annually, giving rise to a unique collection of plants and wildlife — is unique in the United Kingdom.
To build on SSSIs, of which there are 1,400 in Scotland, one requires special permission from the relevant municipal government, which can decide that the potential economic boon from a proposed project outweighs the environmental cost. In November 2007, the Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Committee rejected Trump’s proposal, 8–7. One month later, though, in a surprise move, the Scottish national government “called in” the plan, removing it from the Aberdeenshire Council’s jurisdiction on the grounds that the plan was of national interest.
In October 2008, the national government gave the green light. “The balance of opinion among people in the northeast of Scotland and among my constituents is very strongly in favor. And that’s because we can see the social and economic benefits.” So said Alex Salmond, then a local Scottish parliamentarian (now known for spearheading last year’s failed referendum effort). According to Salmond, Trump’s project promised 6,000 jobs across Scotland, 1,400 of which would be “local and permanent jobs in the northeast.” Construction revved up.
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There was, however, a hitch. Abutting the land Trump hoped to develop were four residences owned and occupied by locals not inclined to move: David Milne, Susan Munro, Michael Forbes, and then-octogenarian Molly Forbes (whose home was on Michael’s land). Trump wanted them out. The tactics he employed toward that end mirrored Vera Coking’s case almost exactly.
Two properties provoked Trump’s particular ire. David Milne’s home, in Balmedie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, was built in 1954. It was then a Coast Guard station, occupying the same spot on which another Coast Guard station had stood, going back to the 1860s. Trump thought it was an eyesore. Likewise a house and several outbuildings owned by Michael Forbes, a salmon fisherman who had left school at 14 to learn his trade, and whose family had lived in the area for several generations. “His property is terribly maintained,” Trump told reporters. “It’s slum-like, it’s disgusting. He’s got stuff thrown all over the place. He lives like a pig.”
So, in early 2009, Trump approached the Aberdeenshire Council to suggest that Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) be served to several Menie landowners. CPOs are the United Kingdom’s version of eminent domain, allowing the government to seize private property for public use. The council deferred, pending an inquiry.
Trump started a campaign to bully the residents out.
In 2010, during a visit to Scotland to receive an honorary degree from Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University (stripped last fall, following Trump’s proposed Muslim ban), Trump declared that a Menie resident had “built his home on our land.” That resident was David Milne (whose property, recall, had existed since 1954). In October of that year, Trump sent a letter to Milne informing him that a “fence and part of a shed (or other building) [were] erected on land belonging to” Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited, and that Milne had to remove it. One week later, crews showed up to do the job themselves. Trump erected a new fence marking the “correct” property line — then billed Milne for it, to the tune of £5,640. (Noting Trump’s penchant for waste, Milne says he could’ve done the job for £800.) In the process, they severed Milne’s electric lines.
That wasn’t the end. During a visit to his Scotland project on an episode of Donald J. Trump’s Fabulous World of Golf, a short-lived reality show that aired on the Golf Channel in 2010–11, Trump announced that “there are some houses quite far away from the course” that “I don’t want to see.” The camera panned to David Milne’s home, high on its perch. Announced Donald: “We are berming some of the areas so that you don’t see the houses.” And sure enough, construction crews spent a week piling earth in a “bund,” a large ridge, around Milne’s home, removing it from view — and cutting off his view of the sea. (Similar bunds were piled up around Forbes’s house, and around Munro’s.) “Nobody has a problem with it!” said Trump, on Trump’s Fabulous World of Golf. He then conceded, with a shrug: “I guess maybe the people who live in the houses have a problem with it.”
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In Trump’s grand plan, by the way, Milne’s house was to be flattened to make way for . . . a parking lot.
Michael Forbes suffered similar abuses. He and his neighbor, Molly, spent ten days without water when construction crews built a road over his well, and those same crews also began earthworks on his property, claiming it was Trump’s. (Forbes owns a copy of the title to his land with borders clearly visible.) They erected dozens of red marker flags on Forbes’s property. When he pulled them up, police warned him that he would be prosecuted for theft if he did it again.
And Trump kept after Baxter: In the fall of 2012, when it was announced that BBC Two planned to air the documentary, Trump’s lawyers complained that the film was defamatory and threatened to lodge a formal complaint with the United Kingdom’s Office of Communications. BBC Two aired the film anyway, to a viewership of 1.1 million.
After a “March to Menie” in late 2010, during which hundreds of locals rallied to the persecuted residents’ defense, Trump told an Aberdeen newspaper that he is no longer seeking CPOs against Milne, Forbes, and their neighbors. But locals have reasons to seethe, still. According to The Independent, Trump’s lavish promise of 6,000 jobs and a £1 billion investment in Scotland’s economy was empty; the Menie project has resulted in just 200 jobs, and best estimates suggest that he has invested just £25 million.
In Scotland, Donald Trump was not against ‘special interests.’ He was special interests.
And it’s quite possible the country will never see the promised money. In December, Trump lost a protracted legal battle with the Scottish government, which had previously permitted development of an offshore wind farm in view of Trump’s Menie golf course. Since the U.K. supreme court’s unanimous ruling against him, Trump has threatened to discontinue development on the Scottish coast. The man who piled up earthworks to block residents’ view of the sea says that the wind farm would spoil the view from his resort.
groundswell It would be an extraordinary irony if Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination riding a of working-class anger toward “elites.” In Scotland, Trump teamed up with “elites” in the local and national government in an attempt to railroad working-class residents out of their homes. In Scotland, Donald Trump was not against “special interests.” He was special interests. As Susan Munro told Anthony Baxter: “I’ve been here a long time, near on three decades, that’s a long time. Most of my adult life’s been spent in this house, brought my family up here, my family was born here. And then this man, this foreigner, because he’s got a few pounds American in his pocket, a bit of a name, and we’re just cast aside, we’re in the way.”
Michael Forbes, who has become something of a folk hero among locals, has a barn on which he painted, in large letters, No More Trump Lies.
Americans should demand the same.
– Ian Tuttle is a National Review Institute Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism.