Donald Trump is learning the hard way about UK real estate development and local Council governance. The Donald was grilled earlier this week by the local council near the site in Aberdeen, Scotland where he plans to build a $2 billion dollar golf resort along pristine coastal dunes. During his opening testimony he said the golf course would be “the greatest in the world,” a pretty ballsy claim for a coastline that boasts links courses at: St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Turnberry. But then, The Donald has never been one for understatement.
Frequently in the past I’ve called similar “enough about me, what do you think about me?” publicity antics as “The Donald Trump School of Public Relations.” It is a very clever “school” where the guiding mantra is, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” There are two kinds, “some” and “none.” As a business friend once said, “just make sure you spell my name correctly.”
In the late 1980’s and early 90’s when his empire was caught up in a real estate crunch very similar to the one we are presently in, he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Like a good poker player, Trump was at his bluffing, blustering best, putting his brand on even more buildings and projects. Had he failed then to secure funding to keep the empire alive, he would still be claiming the next project is “the biggest and best in the world.” That grabs and keeps headlines.
His long-running stint as host of the US version of “The Apprentice” keeps that school philosophy alive and well. Last night we learned the winner of the UK’s “The Apprentice” to Sir Alan Sugar. Even Sir Alan knows how difficult it can be to get around local Councils with building plans. Were the two to speak, The Donald might learn that the one thing you never do to a group of Scotsmen (and women) is throw down a “take it or leave it” gauntlet and threaten to bin the entire project unless you get your way.
The Scots, in all probability, will politely leave it.
At issue are the nine golf holes The Donald wants to place ocean-side over the sand dune nesting areas of protected birds. The Council, in typical EU/UK compromise fashion suggested a few changes that keep those areas unspoilt. The Donald wants his guests to be able tee off with the ocean view so close you can quite literally touch it.
What he underestimates is the power of the RSPB. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is a formidable force boasting several thousand UK members. When it comes to wildfowl nesting places, you are wise not to mess with them. First, the name should give him a clue. Whenever the word “Royal” precedes any organisation in the UK, you are best to consider either coming humbly with request hat in hand or giving up altogether. Money is never the prime motivator since the Royals own or control vast swaths of prime oceanfront, hunting and fishing lands worth billions. These gentrified landowners of England and Scotland focus on doing the quiet, right thing.
They also tend to find self-promotion, overt selling and boasting vulgar and peculiar past-times. The Donald is more likely to be viewed with amusement than seriousness when he takes to the Council floor and treats it as yet another television studio.
Too, all UK politics is local and retail. The Donald cannot fly in for three weeks and expect the community to instantly love him. Having lived in Wales for five years, we are still referred to as “the Yanks on the hill.” Your neighbours will not trust you because you are not from these parts, speak with a funny accent and know nothing about how to drink a pint and have the mick taken out of you.
That takes a lifetime and even then you will always be the outsider. Walking my dog one day I came upon an unknown neighbour and introduced myself, mentioning where we lived. Her simple two word reply… “I know.”
The Donald will also “know” that compromise is the only way in the UK/EU. If he becomes humble and learns this lesson, he can avoid his head sitting on the mantle of the local pub whilst the locals chuckle over a pint or three about that crazy American.
Believe me Donald, that much I know.