Countdown to the USA election at the Trump Turnberry hotel

by Natalie Sauer and Francisco Baiocchi

The prodigious Trump Turnberry hotel and its golf course are located to the South West of Glasgow, eastward of the volcanic island of Ailsa Craig. Upon reaching the driveway, the visitor is greeted with the stark, golden inscription of T R U M P  T U R N B E R R Y. The trail of gold will follow him long into the hotel, from the door handles and dizzying, wreath-adorned carpets, to the golden fixtures of the mahogany furniture. There is an array of Victorian golden plumbing – golden radiators, golden taps and golden showerheads. And within the marble-tiled bathroom there is also the golden soap dish, golden toilet roll holder, golden bin and – a personal favourite – a golden tissue holder.

Offering sweeping views across the adjunct golf course, the new ballroom gives guests the possibility of renting a golden cutlery set, “We are one of the four hotels in the UK to do so” a tender-faced Scottish waiter tells us. The Donald, who loves gold so much that he has entitled one of his books the ‘Midas Touch’, also has a soft spot for chandeliers. Hundreds of them scintillate down the corridor. There are also, of course, the ubiquitous T R U M P wine and whisky bottles, largely left untouched by earnest Scots.

Despite the splendour, the estimated 200 million pound renovation project is at the humble end of the spectrum of Donald J Trump’s property portfolio. We are told that the large-scale portrait, in which the Presidential hopeful appeared flanked by a golf club, only hung for so long before the management deemed it unfit for the indigenous taste. Likewise, the Trump-stamped T-Shirts and goodies that were so enthusiastically showcased in the golf shop upon the resort’s opening, had to go. Following a notoriously vitriolic campaign against minorities, the Trump brand has become toxic, and not only in Britain. Bookings for Trump hotels through luxury-travel specialists Ovation Vacations have plummeted by 29 per cent worldwide in the past six months.

The unpopularity of the hotel’s owner means many employees appear on edge, especially in the few days before the US Presidential election. The Maltese receptionist is surprised as we press him for stories about Mr. Trump. On Saturday night, a couple of Glaswegian lawyers who good-naturedly lean against the bar wearing Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump masks, are carefully monitored by the staff. Throughout the weekend, even on condition of anonymity, personnel refuse to give testimonials about the resort. “I’d get sacked!”, says an employee who has worked 35 years on the Turnberry golf course.

In the neighbouring village of Maidens, “There is a rumour,” says Molly Smith, the owner of the community’s only shop, “that when Trump first came to the Turnberry Hotel he walked around and pointed things that he didn’t like. ‘Who did that?’ ‘You?” Molly levels her finger at our chests, “‘You’re fired’”. Donald Trump’s son, Eric, would then scurry after the unfortunate employees to explain that his father’s words had merely been humour and they could keep their jobs. Mrs. Smith, a robust, 49-year-old Scotswoman, cannot recall where she first heard the rumour.

Accurate or not, the story encompasses a reluctance to discuss Donald Trump that goes beyond the 370 employees at the Turnberry resort. Five miles south of the hotel in the harbour town of Girvan, business owners and pub customers decline to be identified. “Don’t quote me, for god sake! I don’t want to hurt my business. We receive orders from the hotel,” says a local passer-by. “I don’t want Trump to send the CIA after me!”, says another, waving us away at a local pub.

The town centre’s cracked walls and missing letters from the Bank of Scotland façade crudely contrast with the gilded T R U M P insignia. According to the 2016 Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, Girvan is counted among Scotland’s 20% most deprived areas. “You can see, this town’s screwed, it’s dead. Any sort of investment in the area is great, it brings jobs and we don’t want to screw that. It’s the Trump logo that’s the problem”, says an anonymous business-owner.

Official representatives reflect on their constituents’ pragmatism. “I am not going to defend Donald Trump. His politics could not be further from mine,” writes, Corri Wilson, the SNP MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, “but there is no denying that the Trump Organisation has breathed new life into what was a tired and declining facility.” Speaking to us in his surgery in Ayr, the Conservative MSP for the nearby constituency of North Ayrshire, John Scott, alludes to Mr. Trump’s “extraordinarily articulated views”, before surrendering to an uninterrupted eulogy of the Republican candidate.

Admittedly, there are a handful of locals who are more enthusiastic about Mr Trump than others. Displaying ashen blond hair and a vivid, flamingo-coloured lipstick, Christine Douglas lives metres away from the Turnberry hotel. Before reopening the complex in June, the US tycoon personally contacted her and her husband to buy their house in a bid to expand the golf course. Mr. Douglas an experienced negotiator in farming, stood his ground on the original price and refused to accept Mr. Trump’s offer. The two parties ended up striking an amicable neighbourly relationship, Mrs. Douglas said.

Mrs. Douglas describes herself as ‘pro-Trump; “The feeling in the village amongst our friends is that he’s done a great job – both with the hotel and the golf course. Like him, or not.” Where other neighbours and residents from Girvan take issue with the resort’s flamboyant Roman fountains, Mrs. Douglas is fully supportive of the Republican’s aesthetic choices. “The old guards say: ‘Oh I don’t like it, it’s too American, it’s too shiny.’ Well, he’s American, he can do what he likes – it belongs to him!”

In 2010, Mr Trump behaved himself in a rather un-gentlemanly manner in his attempt to create a golf course in Aberdeenshire. He grappled with residents and conservationists to create the ‘greatest golf course in the world’ on previously protected sand dunes. Mr Trump sought to buy local housing to make way for the complex. Mrs Molly Forbes, a widow aged 92, and her son Michael refused to sell their farm. They have since endured intimidation and harassment, including a permanent disruption to their water supply.

We wonder what the pro-Trump opinion on the Aberdonian widow might be. But Mrs X declined comment, receding into the familiar silence of Girvan’s passers-by. Did she see the 38 Degrees banner ‘Love Trumps Hate’ flying three miles away from the hotel on the day of the Republican candidate’s visit? She chuckles that she was likely too busy enjoying afternoon tea and champagne at the Turnberry hotel to notice any unusual activity overhead.

Though self-described as pro-Trump, Mrs. Douglas shies away from calling herself a Trumpette. Save for a couple of brazen Trump supporters in Ayr, the sentiment appears to be shared amoung all Trump sympathisers. Or is it because Trump supporters are less vocal? A poll by Opinium/Observer on British adults surveyed between 1 and 4 November, found that 12 per cent of Britons hoped for a Trump White House.

On a windy evening in Maidens, we struck up a conversation with a local dog-walker, Tom Barclays. We are the only ones on the beach. Out in the open and away from prying ears, Mr. Barclays firmly opposed a Trump presidency. He tells it as it is, before disappearing behind a curtain of reeds “Whatever you do”, he shouted against the howling wind “Don’t say that I like Trump – I like his money.”

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