The Great Orange Cookie Monster
David Black explores why the McMafia (unexplained wealth order) against Trump’s activities in Scotland was ditched.
As the Great Orange Cookie Monster exits through the portals of history and the damage wrought by his Capitol Hill marauders is put to rights, the world can, at last, breath a sigh of relief – all but the seventy four million who voted for him, that is. The agreeable old gent who’s just moved in to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has, to date, proven to be an astute operator. The most politically experienced US President ever, Joe Biden has put an impressive team together, and through various mechanisms has made a decent start to the dismantling of the Trump circus of misrule.
But let’s not get too carried away with the adulation. For one thing, there would never have been a President Trump had it not been for Bill Clinton signing the 1996 Telecommunications Act into law, and opening the floodgates for such loopy-right conservative radio talk show hosts as Glenn Beck and Bill Riley, plus all these shock jocks, conspiracy cranks, and Tea Party blowhards, backed by sinister wealthy interest groups, who set about poisoning the minds of their listeners. Then there was Hillary’s moment of madness when she described those undecided working-class voters who were losing faith in her party as ‘a basket of deplorables.’ Not smart!
There are even a few Democrats who quietly give the Trump administration the odd rare benefit of the doubt, such as the fact that he didn’t initiate any major overseas wars (despite inciting a mob attack on Capitol Hill), or that a rising stock market during his term was good for pension investment funds, or that his support, through an executive order, for the protection of Washington DC’s historic character was enlightened, albeit uncharacteristically. The Democrats, indeed, seem inclined to maintain the latter policy, perhaps guided by the fact that a Harris poll found that 72% of Americans of all income brackets, genders, and ethnicities actually like their national heritage.
One Trump measure doesn’t seem to be concerning ole Joe unduly however; that 25% punitive levy which the Cookie Monster inflicted on the Scottish whisky industry as a response, ostensibly, to the state feather-bedding of Airbus. Scotland derives little benefit from Airbus, other than a 100 or so jobs at Prestwick making spoilers for the wings, and it’s true that Scottish Enterprise granted that particular workshop an R&D grant of £2.1 million in 2018, but – and here you should take a deep breath – the recipient of that generous taxpayer’s gift was Spirit Aero Systems of Wichita, Kansas, a $7 billion global company which manufactures military drones and unmanned fighter jets and happens to own the Prestwick Operation. In other words America was punishing poor Scotia for a state subsidy which was winging its way to – err – America.
As far as the great whisky attack is concerned even the additional fact that Cookie’s treasury secretary was married to a nice Edinburgh lass apparently made no difference. Those of us who care about such things know perfectly well that this grudge match goes back to that fateful night in the city’s swanky Prestonfield House Hotel when farmer Michael Forbes (whose offences against Trump included flying a Mexican flag on the family farm at Balmedie he was refusing to move out of) was declared ‘Glenfiddich Scot of the Year.’
This did not go down well in Trump Towers. Commands were given. The Glenfiddich brand was removed from all Trump points of sale. This boycott may not have had the desired effect, in that a liquor store in liberal Greenwich Village which I knew at the time reported a surge in sales of Scotch, so it’s just possible the teetotal star of The Apprentice was a bit pissed off, whisky-wise. Even so, it would be helpful if, at some point prior to his visit to this year’s COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, his successor could cancel that particularly vindictive measure.
Still and all, it might have helped just a bit to focus the new Presidential mind if Scotland’s own politicians had had the guts to ask their Lord Advocate to look into the possibility of issuing an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) so that some rudimentary investigation might be made into the seemingly Byzantine funding arrangements adopted by the Trump Organization in the case of the Turnberry and Menie Estate golfing ventures. Apart from anything else this might have assisted the investigation into the Cookie Monster’s arcane financial affairs by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who was made aware of the Scottish background last September, and who may now be somewhat perplexed and disappointed at our tartan pro-Trump squadron’s abysmal failure to even raise the in abstracto question that the old marmalade pussycat might, just might, have been engaging in nefarious financial dealings in Scotland.
The UWO, otherwise ‘The McMafia Order,’ was first used in 2018 against the wife of the jailed ex-boss of the International Bank of Azerbaijan after a £16 million Harrod’s shopping spree. In the year that Trump was buying Turnberry his daughter Ivanka was helping to bring to completion a $200 million Trump Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, corruption epicentre of the world – even the Iranian Revolutionary Guard were suspected by some of having a possible involvement in that case. Other controversial Trump hotel schemes which would be dropped after the great illusionist got his mits on the White House keys were in Brazil, The Phillipines, Soviet Georgia, and Saudi Arabia – not the sort of portfolio an ethical investor would tend to assemble, on the whole.
One surprise to come out of the debate was the Tories’ staunch opposition to the very idea that Holyrood should raise the matter of the UWO. After all, the parties which would have most to lose from this particular hornet’s nest being poked are Labour and the SNP, given the fawning reception of Trump by both Jack McConnell, who had bestowed a ‘Global Scot’ award on the old muppet, and Alex Salmond, who had pushed to have the local council’s rejection of his golf course overturned by Scottish ministers. Both parties were in the firing line of embarrassment. Why were Conservative MSPs lining up to help them? Labour, indeed, although implicated historically, supported the motion, leaving a Tory-SNP alliance to protect Trump. Needless to say, those in favour of what was, in effect, a de facto cover-up, went out of their way to insist that the chap was a shocking blaggard and they certainly wouldn’t be encouraging him to marry their daughters, or words to that effect.
Rather unconvincingly, they choose to hide behind the judicial robes of the late Baron Montesquieu (1689-1755) speciously citing as an excuse for their craven timidity that noble jurist’s principle of the separation of powers – not that much attention had been paid to that same principle in 2006, when the Parliament’s Presiding Officer had blatantly done his best to stymie a court action which would have determined the legality of the Holyrood contract.
You don’t have to be an avid supporter of the Greens to comprehend that the motion proposed by Patrick Harvie MSP was well grounded in an amendment to Section 396 of the Proceeds of Crime Act as incorporated in the Criminal Finances Act of 2017 which clearly states: “The Court of Session may, on an application made by the Scottish Ministers, make an unexplained wealth order in respect of any property if the court is satisfied that each of the requirements for the making of the order is fulfilled.”
This would seem to expose the flaccid arguments of the Trump savers as (in the traditional Scots legal terminology thoughtfully deployed by a seasoned advocate pal of mine) ‘a farrago of effing crap.’ Donald Trump was not being accused of any wrongdoing. Harvie’s motion was simply a request for a legal assessment of the transactions and activities of an individual who had, amongst other things, once borrowed $300 million from Deutsche Bank when it was caught up in an infamous ‘global laundromat’ scam involving Russian criminals with ties to the Kremlin.
In most democracies, legislators seek to ensure that the legislation they have brought into effect is enacted, by and large. That’s why we pay their wages. Scotland, it seems, is different.