Europe: The Final Countdown

Why Trump Was in Scotland the Day After the EU Referendum Vote

He helicoptered into Ayrshire to re-open a golf course on a day when the majority of Scots had been outvoted on Brexit. What a treat.
June 25, 2016, 3:50pm

Photo by Jane Barlow / PA Wire

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

We're quitting the EU, the PM has resigned, and the British economy is having a meltdown. Meanwhile, 150 journalists from across the world are standing on a golf course in the middle of nowhere on the Ayrshire coast, awaiting the helicopter arrival of a demagogic property billionaire who could soon be the next President of the United States. He finally shows up and, within minutes, alleged comedian and persistent stage invader Lee Nelson emerges from the press pack and starts handing out swastika-themed golf balls. Could the day really get any worse?

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Scotland woke up in a Brexit daze yesterday, as it became clear that despite voting for Remain—in many areas by an overwhelming majority, and at about 62 percent overall—UK votes will soon drag it out of the European Union against its will. That message doesn't seem to have reached Donald Trump though, who jetted in to Glasgow Prestwick Airport just as news was breaking of David Cameron's resignation.

"Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee tweeted. "They took their country back, just like we will take America back."

Then again, Trump has a history of not actually caring what anyone in the country thinks, despite going on about how much he loves Scotland. This has been nowhere more apparent than the bitter, decade-long conflict around his efforts to build a golf course in Aberdeenshire, which pitted him against local residents and environmentalists. It was this struggle, documented in the 2011 film You've Been Trumped that did little to endear the budding investor to people in Scotland. His more recent interventions, like comparing wind turbines to the Lockerbie disaster, have not won him many friends either.

But this visit was a chance to leave all of that in the past. In 2014, he bought Turnberry, a famous Ayrshire golf resort that most agreed had seen better days. Following Trump's £140 million investment, it now offers a world-class golf course and luxury accommodation, with rooms coming in at more than £300 a night. Trump, various members of his family and what looked like half the US Secret Service were over yesterday for its grand re-opening.

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Superficially, then, the visit had little to do with US politics, let alone the European referendum. Trump continually insisted he was "just here to support his children," who have played a key role in the hotel redevelopment. And there they were, three of his creepily perfect children—Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr.—smirking behind him throughout.

But it remains true that this was the first, and perhaps only, foreign trip in his role as the Republican nominee. So where were the important politicians and business figures, eager to schmooze someone who is not only a major business owner in Scotland, but could soon be sitting in the White House?

"They're here. Everybody is. We have the entire town council here!" replied Trump when a reporter put this to him, ignoring the fact that invites had been sent out to all of Scotland's party leaders, and all duly declined. But he was barely able to hide his delight that a handful of obliging councillors from South Ayrshire had made it along, which is probably not the stature of politician that GOP presidential nominees typically busy themselves with. But Trump takes whatever he can get and runs a mile with it.

The event was effectively a PR charade, designed to show off Trump's business prowess to the media scrum, with the usual level of hyperbole and bluster. The workers of Turnberry had been called out in force, from chefs to greenkeepers. They wore red trucker caps bearing the legend "Made Turnberry Great Again."

Photo by Jane Barlow / PA Wire

Later in the day, the greying membership of Turnberry golf club appeared, filling the seats around his open-air press conference with a blur of Pringle jumpers and golf umbrellas. More interested in putting than politics, they compliantly clapped along at the right moments and laughed at Trump's second-rate jokes about Hillary Clinton. Their number probably rivaled that of a lively counter-protest down the road, which was penned in by police and well out of shouting distance from Trump's outdoor press conference.

"They said there was going to be 2,000 protesters, and we counted, there was 43, and they're way over there," sneered Trump, generating a smatter of laughter among his adoring golfer fans and looks of confusion among the media, whose movements had been so tightly controlled that many were barely aware of the protest. Protest organizers put the figure closer to 200.

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"And my members are very happy with Donald Trump, let me tell you, they love Donald Trump," Trump went on. "They love what we've done here. This is a bit like what we're going to do with the United States"—presumably he didn't just mean fixing its potholes.

The headline grabber proved to be a timely reiteration of support for Brexit, which he believes will be a good thing, as "if the pound goes down, then more people will be coming to Turnberry, frankly." Maybe Trump hasn't considered that most people in the UK are not the owners of multiple golf resorts built to attract wealthy visitors, or maybe he doesn't care.

A few months ago, he claimed in a newspaper column that he has "already won" Scotland, under the headline of "How Scotland will help me become president." The wannabe POTUS explained how the experience he gained during in the drawn-out struggle to open his Aberdeenshire course, which he visited the day after Turnberry, will now help him win America, too. From Friday's evidence, Trump has only managed to "win" over a bunch of musty old men with enough money to spend their retirement hanging around a luxury golf club. Even among them, few were willing to endorse Trump's politics when questioned.

His view of Scotland continues to be defined by caricature, from the two bagpipers that serenaded his entourage as they walked about to the continual twee evocation of his mother's heritage, without even bothering to find out which way the country had voted in the EU referendum. But Friday's event was never about Scotland and never about Brexit. Rather, it was just another day out in the ongoing circus that could see him win the presidency.

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