Friday, December 14, 2007

Trumped Up

A rich investor; an upscale development; the chance to immerse oneself in bureacratic procedure; the opportunity to snipe at people simply trying to do their best... Frankly, I'm hard pushed to think of a mix which could more effectively bring out the parochial, petty minded and vindictive worst in some Scots politicians. And the proposed Trump development at Menie really does seem to have it all.

Journalist Kenny Farquarson hit the nail on the head in last week's Scotland on Sunday, when he pointed out that if Trump were a Swedish tycoon famed for his Renaissance art collection, it wouldn't have caused half this much fuss. However, what's starting to bother me is the way that those who claim to support the project are now trying to turn this into an issue with which to try to smear the government.

Some facts. Local opinion is strongly in favour; the Formartine area committee of Aberdeenshire Council was in favour, as indeed is the full council. However, due to the decision of its planning committee, Aberdeenshire Council found itself prevented by standing orders from resurrecting the application. As such, you would think there might be widespread support amongst those claiming to be in favour of the project, for the government decision to 'call in' the application.

I've seen at first hand the way that Alex Salmond has prefaced his comments on the development, with a statement that as First Minister, he is debarred from making any public statement which could be construed as being either in favour or against the development. As the local MSP, though, he is bound to meet with interested parties both for and against the development. A difficult tightrope to walk, but one which he has managed to negotiate with absolute probity.

However, that hasn't stopped the suggestion. 'A government car was used to transport the First Minister to meet Trump representatives!' - yes, but this is within the rules. 'A government adviser was present at the meeting!'- er, no, it was his constituency office manager. 'John Swinney went to a function at a Trump resort, just before he called the appplication in!' - yes, he attended a GlobalScot function to promote Scottish/US business links, at which no members of the Trump organisation were present.

When the smoke clears, though, all we seem to be left with is the cheap innuendo of nonentities like Richard Baker MSP. On Scotland at Ten last night, after claiming that questions remained unanswered in this affair, he was then singluarly unable under challenge from Alex Neil MSP to say what those unanswered questions might be, or even what rules he believed may have been broken. Good to see that Baker's lost none of the political skills he picked up in his time as President of NUS Scotland. However, I can't let this pass without reference to Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen, and his slur yesterday on the Scottish Government's Chief Planner.

Stephen chose to suggest in Parliament yesterday that there was some impropriety in the fact that the planner had met with representatives of the Trump organisation to explain how matters might develop in the event that the decision was called in, and in the fact that they were present during the early stages of a phone call between the Chief Planner and the Chief Exec of Aberdeenshire Council. The Chief Planner has no right of reply to such allegations, so the prompt confirmation from Aberdeenshire Council that the Trump representatives had been asked to leave the room before any substantive discussion took place will have come as a welcome relief I am sure.

You'd think that someone like Nicol Stephen, who's faced his own difficulties with the ministerial code over previous planning issues and who has himself faced accusations of personal financial impropriety in the very recent past, might be a bit more careful before throwing the mud around. Well, apparently not. Were people really suggesting only a year ago that Stephen was a suitable candidate to be First Minister? Good grief...

Anyway, I hope common sense eventually prevails in this frenzy, and that everyone claming to have the best interests at heart of the North East, whether they care for Alex Salmond and the SNP or not, allows the planning procedure to run its course without further distraction. Frankly, this nonsense is doing nothing to improve our image around the world as a place where you can come and and get sound and sober decisions taken promptly by politicians and officials.

Press and Journal Editorial - 14 December

Aberdeen Evening Express Editorial:


'First Minister Alex Salmond is spot on in his assessment of yesterday's sleaze row as a descent into gutter politics. 'It is tiresome that Nicol Stephen is hijacking attempts to get the Trump bid back on course to score cheap political points. 'As a North-east MSP we expect him to represent the interests of his constituents, not sling mud at the expense of efforts to rescue the Menie proposals. 'Mr Stephen is hardly the one to indulge in such heckling. People in the North-east still haven't forgiven the way he presided over the bypass farce. 'Mistakes have been made, but work is now going on at the highest levels to ensure the Trump proposal is feasible. We expect our MSPs to support that'.


Richard Havers said...

Richard I agree with you on the political sniping. It is pretty daft. However, and isn't there always :)

I think problems will arise with the whole suitability of the project. I think it's been thought up with an American mindset and this is Scotland. As the song so succinctly puts it.....there maybe trouble ahead.

Richard Thomson said...

'But while there's moonlight and music and love and romance...'

You might be right, Richard. Scotland is different to the States. Nonetheless, if people don't like the facilities, don't like the houses and don't like the hotel, then it's his investment which is going to be at risk. That's a pretty strong incentive for him to try and get it right first time.

At the end of the day, to use a horrible chiche, it's his money and he obviously sees an opportunity. Nothing's ever guaranteed, but I really can't see that the proposal would have even got to this stage if he didn't think a market existed for what's being offered.

Richard Havers said...

Richard, I agree, but I think there's a lot of collateral damage that's already occurred and more is likely to happen. There's some big deal stuff sil to go down on all of this. Not least 'the Donald' being somewhat threatening in his remarks.

as I said on my own blog....

A foreign commercial organization telling democratically elected members of parliament of another country to 'cease and desist'. Can you imagine if it were a British company telling American senators to do the same?

I know he was telling the Liberals that, but even so!

p.s. there's been very little 'love and romance' either...

Richard Thomson said...

Can you imagine if it were a British company telling American senators to do the same?

If they felt it was remotely justified, then perhaps they should - straight talking is seldom a negative in the states, after all.

Being democratically elected gives no monopoly of wisdom, and in my book, respect has to be earned. As far as I'm concerned, that applies every bit as much in politics as it does in business.

Let's just say that with his 'triangulations' over claiming to want to see the project progress but doing everything he can to sully the SNP while lacking the evidence or the courage to make any specific allegations, Nicol Stephen is certainly not earning any respect from me right now, let alone the prospect of 'love and romance' :-)