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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 30/03/2012 | 1 Comment

If you have ever wondered what the unfettered pursuit of economic growth looks like, and the damage it can create, go and see an independent film doing the rounds at the moment 'You've been trumped'.

I had the chance to see it last week when I was in Ullapool. Most of the folk who attended the screening were shocked by what they saw. My sons and their partners watched it too and they could not believe that the film was about their country – Scotland.

The film quickly fills us in on Donald Trump's plan to build 'the best golf course in the world', a luxury hotel and lots of luxury housing on a site containing sand dunes in the north east of Scotland: a site  which was so important environmentally that it was designated a 'site of special scientific interest' and had the highest environmental designation from the European Union. One scientist interviewed in the film refers to it as 'Scotland's Amazon rain forest'.

The local council narrowly voted against the development and the planning application was then 'called in' by the Scottish Government. Their view was that the economic benefits to the area, and the jobs it would create, outweighed  environmental considerations.

Much of the publicity surrounding the planning application in the media arose because the local residents did not want to sell their houses or land to facilitate the development. A farmer, Michael Forbes, received huge media attention because an irate Donald Trump said that his place was so messy that 'he lived like a pig' and other officials in the area claimed the farmer was a 'national embarrassment'.

This is where film maker Anthony Baxter decided to step in. He lives in Montrose and became interested, not just in the environmental angle, but also in finding out more about the locals and telling their story. 'You've been trumped' is the result.

What emerges is the story of ordinary basic humanity versus greed and hubris. The local people value their heritage, community and environment but are pitted against those enthralled to wealth, fame, and power. The locals act with integrity and decency; the best that can be said about Trump is that he is a man who cannot be trusted.

Watching this film, the ordinary people of Scotland (and some local artists) are a credit to the country.  But institutional Scotland comes out very badly. It isn't simply Trump, and by extension,  the politicians who supported him that are shown in a negative light: the local police, local university (who gave Trump an honorary degree), and Scottish arts organisations, who refused to fund or show the film, are also discredited. The mainstream Scottish media who failed to cover the story adequately are also indirectly shamed by this film.

'You've been trumped' has had very little profile in Scotland yet is doing very well in the rest of the UK and internationally. It has won a string of environmental and film documentary awards.  It is being seen in cinemas right round the world.

But am I not being too hasty here? After all folk have to live; jobs are important for well-being and this is an area that needed some economic boost. Surely the politicians were right to favour the development? But what's the point in having designations such as 'site of special scientific interest'  if they can then be brushed aside when there is the prospect of investment and jobs? What's the point of talking about 'sustainable' economic growth and then give planning permission to a project which is essentially about international tourism – a far cry from anything that could be called 'sustainable'.

Watching the film and listening to the discussion afterwards it appears that the Scottish parties (as this isn't only about the SNP Government's actions) were taken in by Trump – duped in some way about the economic benefits that would flow from this development. This is certainly the view of one LSE economist interviewed for the film. He is incredibly sceptical about the jobs Trump claimed his development would create and the boost to the economy. He thought the figures greatly inflated yet they were accepted by politicians at face value.  As he pointed out many of the hotel jobs would be taken by migrant workers who send much of the cash they make back home.

But from an economic point of view it's even worse than this: Trump is now saying he is not going ahead with the rest of the development.  First he blamed this decision on the recession and now on the Scottish Government's plans for a wind farm in the sea near the golf course.

If the hotel and houses don't go ahead then this means that Scotland's Amazon rain forest has been trashed for a few million pounds and a handful of jobs. And Scotland's reputation similarly damaged. What's more, we didn't need Trump to put Scotland on the map for golf; we were there anyway.

You can watch the trailer here and also check screenings.   

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