The past is a foreign country, so the saying goes, but the relationship that the Scottish political class had with the now-reviled US President-elect only a few years ago seems particularly alien in retrospect.
Across the party divide, our leaders appeared hopelessly starstruck in Donald Trump’s presence, and reacted to his special interest in the country of his mother’s birth as if they were schoolgirls who Justin Bieber had just favoured with 15 seconds of selfie-time.
It all started when Labour First Minister Jack McConnell appointed Mr Trump to the role of ‘business ambassador for Scotland’, and was suspected of being somewhat less than impartial in his consideration of the proposed ‘Trump International Golf Links’, which threatened the continued existence of one of Scotland’s last great wildernesses – a breathtaking network of shifting sand dunes on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire.
Unfortunately, a change in government in 2007 made absolutely no difference, and the SNP’s Alex Salmond continued to move heaven and earth to ensure the development went ahead, regardless of the environmental cost. Even after Aberdeenshire Council’s planning committee had rejected the proposal, the Scottish Government used its power of override on the grounds that the wonderful Mr Trump was engaged in a project of “national importance” which would generate thousands of jobs.
The love affair was not entirely unreciprocated, it has to be said. Trump famously gushed to the Scottish media that Mr Salmond was an “amazing man” who was determined to secure economic opportunities for his country. But as the planning process wound its way to its inevitable and depressing conclusion, the media also started to report on the warnings that were trickling through from the “beneficiaries” of Trump’s previous developments in the US.
He was not a normal businessman, these people said. All of his promises would vanish into a puff of smoke the moment he had what he wanted – it had all happened a thousand times before. Scotland would rue the day that it failed to slam the door firmly shut in his face.
As seemingly hysterical predictions go, that wasn’t such a bad one. The site of special scientific interest at Menie was tragically bulldozed, but the much-hyped transformative boost to the local economy failed to materialise. Trump rapidly started to cool on the project, and his risible excuse was that a planned offshore windfarm would spoil the view from the golf course.
Then Trump performed a dizzying 180 degree U-turn in his assessment of Alex Salmond, and began putting out crazed press releases branding the First Minister “Mad Alex”, a man hell-bent on destroying his own country with new-fangled renewable energy schemes. Trump’s mother Mary was prayed in aid a number of times, on the grounds that she would have been heartbroken at what Salmond was doing to her “beloved Scotland” (although what she would have made of the destruction at Menie wasn’t speculated upon).
Salmond has never explicitly apologised for the decisions he made, but given that he now characterises Trump as a “sociopath”, there can be little doubt that he understands he made a terrible misjudgement, and should have heeded the warnings.
But that’s the problem with Trump – there’s an endless cycle of people who ignored the warnings going on to issue the next batch of warnings, which in their turn are ignored as The Donald’s charm sweeps all before him. Perhaps it was inevitable that this process would eventually lead to a clueless electorate crowning the uniquely unsuitable Trump as King of the World, with power of life and death over every single person on this planet.
And that’s not an exaggeration. The US prides itself on a system of checks and balances that make it impossible for a Hitler-type figure to rise to power and then dismantle democracy. There will be no Enabling Act under Trump. There will be no Führerprinzip. But does there actually need to be, when the American system gives the leader total control over the usage of one of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals? That’s the ultimate dictatorial power, and one that Hitler could only have dreamt of.
Trump has already boasted of how he will explore the potential of nuclear blackmail, stressing the importance of being ‘unpredictable’ on the rather important issue of whether or not the US will suddenly decide to obliterate another country with hydrogen bombs.
We in Scotland no longer require much imagination to see how this could play out in the most disastrous way. If a few windmills were enough to transform Alex Salmond from “an amazing man” to “Mad Alex”, it’s probably reasonable to say that the bromance between Trump and Putin is a rather fragile thing. The mind boggles as to the potential consequences if some trivial incident leads to the two becoming sworn enemies.
It’s being said in some conservative quarters that the arrival of President Trump boosts the case for the so-called “British independent nuclear deterrent”, because the US can no longer be automatically relied upon to provide a nuclear umbrella for Britain and the rest of Europe. But the true lesson is the opposite one. If the nuclear weapons of the most advanced democracy in the world can so easily fall under the total control of an unstable narcissist like Trump, the whole concept of a nuclear balance of peace is plainly bankrupt.
The survival of the human race, in the short-term let alone in the long-term, depends on forging a post-nuclear future. As the unwilling host of Britain’s nuclear weapons, that’s a point that we in Scotland need to ponder as a matter of some urgency.
And there’s something else we need to reflect upon in these scariest of days. In retrospect, the narrow victory of the No campaign in the independence referendum of 2014 looks very much like the first in a hat-trick of landmark wins for ugly, right-wing, fear-based campaigns that exploited the basest instincts of blood-and-soil nationalism.
It’s no coincidence that the BNP and UKIP both opposed Scottish independence and supported Brexit, and that far-right white nationalist groups in the US were similarly supportive of Trump. Polling also confirms the considerable overlap in support for the anti-independence 'Better Together' campaign and for Brexit.
It’s disorientating to realise that a country which prides itself on being one of the most progressive parts of Britain was not immune to this dangerous tide of nativist rabble-rousing. If we truly want to opt out of the madness that now appears to be sweeping the globe, perhaps the first thing we need to do is revisit the decision of 2014.
James Kelly's blog, Scot goes POP!, is among the most popular political blogs in the UK. He has also contributed to a number of newspapers and magazines.