By Alec Ross
The story is told of Donald Trump, in the good old days when he was just a media blowhard and not a sociopath world leader with the codes to the nuclear football.
He wanted to build a new state of the art clubhouse for one of his marquee golf courses and asked for architects to tender for the contract. The guy who won it was known to be extremely good, if essentially small-time. This was the biggest job of his career, the pinnacle, a lottery win.
The house was built and the man sent Trump the bill. After a month it was unpaid, so he sent a gentle reminder. And then a reminder that wasn’t quite so gentle. He began to worry – understandably, as he’d invested heavily in the project. His lawyers got involved but Trump threw more expensive lawyers back.
Eventually, the architect managed to get a meeting with Trump. When he entered the room, Trump was at his desk. Behind him were an army of security guards and lawyers. Trump told him he didn’t think his clubhouse was worth the price agreed. He wrote out a cheque for much less than the quote and the architect put it in his pocket and left the building. What else could he have done? He just about stayed in business, and Donald Trump became leader of the free world.
The story is on one level slightly depressing but unremarkable, yet on another it may be significant, particularly in the context of what happened next – the political ascent of The Donald. The key to a relationship – personal, business, whatever – is that everybody gains. In my own job, people buy my products. This allows me to be professionally fulfilled and live in a nice house and take my boys on holiday. The products help the farmers to become more efficient and, therefore, profitable. All of this activity means that there’s more work for the people who actually make the products, so their jobs stay viable. And even a small business like mine needs seventy five other small businesses to supply it goods and services to continue trading. It’s the ultimate win-win.
The point of the Trump story is that he isn’t interested in anyone winning but Donald Trump. In fact, for Trump it isn’t a real victory until the other guy gets crushed, as Scotland realised as soon as he got here from the way he treated the people on the Menie estate where he was building his golf course. There’s a bit in the documentary “you’ve been Trumped” where his workers break a water pipe feeding the house of an elderly woman. The chilling bit is that there doesn’t appear to have any reason for a digger to be there. It might have been broken deliberately. Like the proto-capitalist monster Gordon Gekko in “Wall St”, he destroyed simply because it was destroyable.
That’s a bad enough attitude if your game is real estate. It’s a positively terrifying one if you’re the most powerful politician on the Earth. That inability – that unwillingness – to build bridges and negotiate fairly; that inability to think creatively about challenges, far less the ability to form a strategy to solve them. That tendency to blame everyone and everything but your own ineptitude for the permabouroch that consumes us. A wilful disregard for detail that comes close reckless boredom. Such a person isn’t remotely fit for high office. As my grandfather used to say, such a person isn’t even fit to run Kirkcolm Bowling Club.
Anyone following the news over the last three years will know that the description from above doesn’t just refer to the POTUS. There was a time when the UK could – just about – claim enough political capital to occupy a higher moral ground than a sociopath. But now that terrain feels about as secure as Alex McLeish’s jaiket peg this evening – especially after that Theresa May speech last night (I’m coming to that). Although at least when it comes to getting Scotland out of Europe, Eck doesn’t hang about. When it comes to Brexit, he delivers. He’s maybe missed his calling.
Anyone with even a passing interest in this column knows that I believe that Scotland’s future should not be decided by the parliament of another country which in a few short years has gone from being annoying and unhelpful to actively working against our best interests and rapaciously undermining our democratic structures by means of a Brexit-enabled power grab. Westminster is and always has been designed to shun consensus and keep power and influence in the hands of as few people as possible. That kind of muddles along until a bouroch – for argument’s sake we’ll call it “Brexit” – arrives. Brexit is the first time the system has been properly stress-tested and the system has been found wanting. In truth, if you wanted a political model to achieve consensus and build bridges in the white heat of a crisis, Westminster would be the polar opposite of what you needed. It’s hardly surprising that a political machinery this confrontational, this parochial, this arrogant, has utterly failed its biggest test and will now quite probably see the countries of the United Kingdom leaving the EU without a deal. The British establishment has never had to deal with people as equals before, so it found itself bereft of the skill set required. It set itself up to fail and has now voluntarily banished itself to political exile. It doesn’t even get to decide whether there’s an extension to Article 50 or not. This is called Taking Back Control.
In less than three years, the UK has gone from being an influencer to a beggar. The mood music is that the EU will only grant an extension if there is a clear and obvious reason to do so and the kind of credible objective that has thus far been lacking. It’s also possible that there won’t be a meaningful vote next week as the speaker has ruled that you can’t keep asking people to vote on a question that is essentially the same. The EU are rightly scunnered with three years of incompetence and the negotiation period is over. We are crashing out of Europe next week without any sort of a deal at all. And Scotland voted to remain. Why we are still here, when we have a triple-locked mandate to remove ourselves from a bouroch we rejected, baffles and saddens me.
Which takes us to Theresa May’s speech last night.
Where shall we start?
Let’s make a couple of pertinent remarks before moving onto the bigger ones. Although these are important, too.
She name-checked the DUP, the dinosaur denying friends who allow her to cling to her majority, and who will be at the table for any post- Brexit trade talks as a reward for their support for which there will be a billion thanks, and each of them worth a pound. Less than 0.5% of the UK votes for the DUP yet they have more influence in future trade deals than the whole of Scotland, who incidentally should receive £3.3bn in Barnett Consequentials but will instead receive nada and be expected to be grateful. And since the bung comes from borrowing determined by the London Treasury we will be legally bound to pay our share of the loan, even though we don’t want to. We are literally paying for our own impoverishment. This is what Better Together meant when they talked about pooling and sharing. This is your precious family of nations. This is what happens when you vote no and refuse to take ownership for your selfishness and your stupidity.
Secondly, I don’t understand why she made the speech. Or, more accurately, why she made that particular speech. If – God forbid – I was half-minded to vote for her “deal” in the unlikely event of a third vote, I’d be damned if I’d be doing so now. Particularly as she’d just traduced me when I’d voted with my conscience but been called an enemy of democracy.
I carry no torch for Westminster. I wish that the Scotland I lived in were independent. But yesterday the Prime Minister aligned herself with the people against the parliament. She publicly put the appeasement of the lunatic right wing fringe of her party ahead of the good of the people. That is genuinely terrifying.
The woman doesn’t look well. Her eyes looked dead. Like Donald Trump and his architect, the goal isn’t consensus but a scorched earth victory, and the rest of you can go to hell. She may have, in the words of Robert Burns, “tint her reason a’ thegither”. There may well have been a time when she got into politics to make a difference. I don’t know. But last night it looked like the only thing that mattered wasn’t the victory but the defeat of the opponent. And it was ever thus. It was evident in the first Scottish independence referendum of 2014. The Purdah breaking “vow”. The leaking of sensitive market information on RBS. The stench over admitted postal vote tampering. The house always wins.
The key question, in terms of my own country, is this:
In what kind of parallel reality does anyone believe we have the remotest chance of achieving the right to hold a second and final independence referendum in such an environment? Voting No in 2014 was an unforgivable act of epic self-harm that would never be seen as an article of trust but as a betrayal of weakness. If we’re to move forward, we must take ownership of the consequences of boasting – and then cowering. In the end, it isn’t about currency or dog licenses or data roaming. It’s about pride, bravery, self-respect. Normality. Stuff that can’t be bought or sold for English gold.
Yesterday, the First Minister of Scotland was chairing a resilience committee to mitigate the effects of the policies of a country she doesn’t lead. It is an absurd and appalling use of the time and energies of an intelligent and charismatic person whom we are lucky to have as our leader. She said that at least it afforded her the chance to avoid watching a Prime Minister weakly appeasing the hard right in an attempt to hold on to power and appease her own party at the expense of the people.
“She needs to go”, she said.
Aye, First Minister. She does.
And so, immediately, must we.