Trump arrives just in time to see a Scottish autocrat flaunt her power

Trump arrives just in time to see a Scottish autocrat flaunt her power

by Tom Gallagher
article from Monday 16, July, 2018

LET’S FACE IT Donald Trump and Nicola Sturgeon have certain elementary things in common. They are both egotists who crave attention. They rely on family members to discharge authority (she far more than him). They also depict their respective countries in nationalist terms.   

But there the similarity largely ends. The US President is determined to leave America profoundly changed by the time he leaves office. His critics say he is a dictator-in-the-making. But the 1783 constitution makes an authoritarian Presidency difficult to install. There is far more evidence that he is primarily driven by the need to restore US economic fortunes. His duels with allies (and with China) are over terms of trade. He believes they need to be far more equal in order for American manufacturing to revive.    

Trump rang the Scottish first Minister to introduce himself less than a month after his election in 2016. They apparently haven’t spoken since. But he has found it hard to conceal his dislike for her style and actions. Perhaps she reminds him overmuch of his defeated adversary Hillary Clinton. Their economic philosophy is anathema to his.  They believe in top-down redistribution and a much bigger role for government and the Third sector. Perhaps it has dawned on him that Sturgeon is managing to roll out the measures which a Clinton presidency would have pushed ahead with. It may even have occurred to him that Scotland now is a microcosm of what the USA would be starting to look like if Clinton had fought a more effective campaign in 2016.   

During his visit, if he has had time to observe the Scottish political scene when not out on the course at his golf resort on the Ayrshire coast at Turnberry or  preparing for his Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin, he might have had plenty to mull over. Because Ms Sturgeon has given fresh clues about the way she exercises power and the control she exercises over her state.    

Fresh from carrying out a radical reshuffle of her government in which she made perhaps Scotland’s most prominent social justice warrior Humza Yousaf, minister of justice, she found the time to be the Chief Marshall at Glasgow’s main Gay pride march on 14 July. This is a new post that appears to have been specifically designed just for her. Pride Glasgow is headed by a pro-independence supporterand  Sturgeon was chosen even though earlier in her career she was far more cautious about identifying with gay issues. Indeed the SNP had little or no involvement in the fight for gay rights. Instead it has cleverly reached out to gay and lesbian organisations with strategic injections of funding. Critics (some from within the gay community) feel that like other civic bodies, organizations representing sexual minorities have been absorbed into the party-state whose visibility has soared in the nearly three years since Sturgeon became First Minister.   

Except in certain US cities where the Democratic Party is firmly in charge, there is no equivalent of this concentration of power in America. With a working majority in a single-chamber parliament, the SNP runs an autocratic state and has centralised the police and stripped local government of much of its autonomy. She is planning to make culture central to all policy making which the leading composer James Macmillansees as ‘naked political interference’. If Trump went down a similar route, then he would probably be denounced as a dictator even by many in his own party.    

Sturgeon deflects criticism by having a pro-active media machine and by lining up support from a host of left-of-centre advocacy groups which are well looked after by the state. Musicians, comedians and actors are prominent backers, the kind of people who in America are proud to be regarded as Trump’s fiercest foes.   

While Sturgeon headed the Glasgow Pride march with ‘Choose Love’ emblazoned on her white teeshirt, Janey Godley, one of the SNP’s most vocal backers from the world of entertainment, was in a less benign mood. This comedienne who has frequently performed alongside the previous SNP leader Alex Salmond as he builds a stage career, made headlines by brandishing a placard (pictured) which simply read ‘Trump is a C**t.’ 

She was at the perimeter of the Turnberry resort and plenty of police were around. But no action was taken against her. Indeed, shots were shown of her performing a ‘high five’ gesture with a uniformed policeman. It is not as if the Scottish police are relaxed about offensive actions by the public. In 2016, a tweet sent by the force's Greater Glasgow division warned: ‘Think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend’.It also urged social media users to consider whether a post was "true, hurtful, illegal, necessary or kind” before they sent it.

There had also been disquiet when a para-glider was allowed to fly within a few yards of the Trump Turnberry hotel. It was impossible to know if the intruder was a terrorist or a daredevil  protester. Many hours elapsed before an arrest was made but Sturgeon later sent out this congratulatory tweet: ‘This weekend has been a busy shift for @policescotland - they have done a great job. My thanks to all.’ 

Days earlier Inspector David Hamilton, vice-chair of the Scottish Police Federation had tweeted (only later to delete the message): ‘The Brexit Dream is dying - Finally! How about we wake up, forget the whole idea and just get on with being good Europeans rather than listening to the slightly thick and slightly racist muppets who took us here and who now cling on to some bizarre Victorian imperialist fantasy.’ 

In the midst of a constitutional power struggle to determine whether Scotland continues to be part of the United Kingdom, the politicisation of a previously decentralised and usually political neutral police force, raises unsettling questions. What if a future British Prime Minister has views about the country’s relationship with continental Europe of the kind which senior policeman David Hamilton finds so repugnant. On visits to Scotland, could a David Davis or a Boris Johnson rely on Police Scotland to keep them out of danger? It is incredible to be posing such a question but these are no ordinary times.    

In April, I visited the Glasgow home of Fiona Jordan, a campaigner against anti-social behaviour in the Govanhill district, a place whose character has been profoundly altered by the arrival of thousands of very poor people, mainly Roma from Eastern Europe. (In ‘Flight of Evil’ a novel I had just published, a Roma teenager is framed for a crime he didn’t commit by a politician and a police accomplice but a non-racist figure very much like Jordan re-directs her efforts to try and get him free.) Over tea she explained what I had already heard, of how she had been placed under pressure by the police because her insistence that safety and cleanliness be priorities of frontline services were not taken kindly. The pressure reached the extent that she refused to open the door to plain-clothes officers and, in an article published in May, she argued that Scottish police officers made life difficult for her because she had crossed the wrong politicians. 

Donald Trump has certainly crossed the SNP but their relations were not always adversarial. In 2009 after the Salmond government had released on compassionate grounds Britain’s largest mass murder, the Libyan national convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Trump was approached by officials of the then First Minister Alex Salmond to see if he would publicly back the move.  A letter was drafted in which he was to urge critics of the controversial move not to ‘ever demean’ Scotland. But he refused to cooperate. Thereafter a very cordial relationship soured.

Trump had been happy to be a beneficiary of the SNP’s readiness to smooth the way for business people who were identified as possible key allies in its political struggle. Planning permission enabling him to build a golf resort north of Aberdeen was even taken out of the hands of the local authority and fast-tracked by Salmond’s government. But things went awry when Trump proved un-cooperative and planning permission was given for an offshore wind farm in full view of his hotel.    

Mercantile interests led to a short-term alliance between Trump and the party which has an abnormally tight grip on much of Scottish life. Political divergences soon blew them apart. Trump and Sturgeon are both populists, operators who set aside the conventions in order to drive forward their agendas. But Trump’s vision is a conservative one in which he reaches out beyond a left-leaning establishment to mobilise citizens receptive to an agenda shaped by individual rights and a belief in free enterprise. Sturgeon by contrast champions group rights over individual free expression and harnesses a sprawling state to reward favoured groups and micro-manage the lives of citizens.    

More seriously he seems to spot that the break-up of Britain poses dangers for the United States given the SNP’s propensity to build alliances with regimes often seen as hostile to the West. So it is no surprise to learn that ‘he takes up phone time’ with Theresa May attacking Nicola Sturgeon. 

To me this is very reassuring. Too many people around May, as well as in the wider British establishment, share the SNP’s outlook that Britain is played out now and if it breaks up there is always the EU to accommodate a new set of maritime states.    For all his uncultured ways, Trump is probably far more aware than May that the Anglo-Scottish Union was crucial for uniting both sides of the North Atlantic in common civilisational endeavours. As long as he remains in the White House, it is hard to see a more redoubtable foe of Scottish nationalism anywhere else in the world.    

For anyone desiring an account of Sturgeon’s rise to power and its implications for Britain as a whole, Tom Gallagher’s 2016 book ‘Scotland Now: A Warning to the world is available in Kindle and in paperback. His twitter account is @cultfree54

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