‘Scotland saw Trump for who he was years ago’: An ocean away, Turnberry residents predict president’s re-election chances

On the Scottish coast, Eve Livingston finds that everyone has an anecdote about the world’s most powerful man. But not all agree on what should happen next week 

Friday 30 October 2020 12:51 GMT
A view of the lighthouse on the Ailsa Championship Course at the Trump Turnberry resort in Ayrshire
A view of the lighthouse on the Ailsa Championship Course at the Trump Turnberry resort in Ayrshire (Reuters)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Most people living in tiny seaside villages on the west coast of Scotland are unlikely ever to come face to face with a president of the United States. The residents of Turnberry, Ayrshire, probably never expected that they would either – until the New York businessman who bought the village’s golf courses and hotel in a 2014 deal entered the White House two years later.  

Four years on and a week away from another election, everyone in Turnberry has an anecdote about Donald Trump, the Republican incumbent candidate for the American presidency. There are those who have worked at his resort or events he has attended; others who have bumped into him while celebrating a wedding at his hotel.  

“I was behind him on the golf course once,” recalls 67-year-old retired postman John Gillespie. “He’s a very loud fellow.”

Mr Gillespie, who is from Girvan, five miles from Turnberry, speaks for many of his neighbours when he says he has conflicting opinions about the presidential candidate.  

The US president plays a round of golf on the Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry in July 2018
The US president plays a round of golf on the Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry in July 2018 (AFP/Getty)

“Most people here think he’s been good for the area with the money he’s put into the economy and the jobs he’s created,” says Mr Gillespie. “But if I lived in America I would be voting for Biden because he seems more down to earth – more of this earth. Trump is definitely a businessman but he’s not a president.”  

I was behind him on the golf course once… he’s a very loud fellow

John Gillespie, retired postman

Young people who grow up locally have particularly benefited from the swathe of hospitality and leisure jobs created at Trump Turnberry. Many are afraid to publicly discuss their thoughts on the man who is ultimately their boss, for fear of reprisal and because they’re grateful for the opportunities he has brought to the area.  

But, says one 20-year-old former employee en route to her new job, “I think he should probably stick to running hotels and not countries.” Although, she notes, rumours abound that he may not be very good at that either, with ongoing questions about the financing of the Turnberry estate.  

The Trump resort, alongside its staff houses and operational buildings, takes up the majority of Turnberry village. From almost every hole on the three golf courses players can see Turnberry lighthouse, the abandoned volcanic island Ailsa Craig, and the isle of Arran – the picturesque village’s most famous attractions prior to Mr Trump’s arrival. But despite the exclusivity and decadence associated with Trump Turnberry, it is located in Ayrshire, a region which has struggled with unemployment and poverty following the death of its traditional industries.  

“He might have given people jobs and spent money here but it’s not worth the embarrassment of having to be associated with him,” says 46-year-old carer Kerry McAuley, who refers to the presidential hopeful as “Mr Pumpkin”. 

It’s a moniker coined by her 8-year-old twin sons but among many she insists Ayrshire locals have for Trump, and one of the more child-friendly. “He’s a dangerous liability and I’ll be popping the champagne the minute he loses that election.”

Coronavirus weighs heavy on the minds of Ayrshire residents who find themselves abiding by some of the strictest measures in the UK. Indoor mixing is prohibited, pool halls and bowling clubs are shuttered, and an alcohol ban has forced pubs and restaurants to close. Cafes remain open; “let’s just say [Trump] would not get a very warm welcome if he came in here for his morning roll,” says the proprietor of one.  

A deer runs on one of the three courses at Turnberry
A deer runs on one of the three courses at Turnberry (Reuters)

The pandemic, and Mr Trump’s handling of it, has reinforced a negative view that many locals already had of him. Gerry Ferrara, 65, compares Mr Trump’s coronavirus approach to his 2012 acquisition of another Scottish estate, Menie in Aberdeenshire, which proved controversial when it went ahead despite fervent protests from the local community. And just this month he was granted full planning permission for another course on that site.  

“His ruthlessness has been evident in his abject failure to address the Covid-19 catastrophe and in his downplaying of the pandemic,” says Ferrara, who recently retired from work at Ayrshire College. “The American people are seeing – on a massively bigger scale – what Scotland has already seen of him. I think many people in this area are shocked that the US and the rest of the world could be subjected to another four years of this buffoon.”

As she walks Angus the border collie along the Ayrshire coastal path – a beauty spot which has been rerouted to avoid walkers on Trump’s golf courses – 38-year-old caterer Natalie Liddell ponders how best to plan her election-night viewing.  

The lobby of the clubhouse at Trump Turnberry
The lobby of the clubhouse at Trump Turnberry (Reuters)

“Knowing me I’ll fall asleep right at the most important bits,” she says. “But I’ve been following it really closely and I’m optimistic Joe Biden will get [Trump] out. I’ll drink all the coffee I can if it means I’m awake to see that.”

Ian Fraser, who has golfed at Trump Turnberry and stayed in the adjoining hotel thanks to corporate and hospitality gifts in his financial services consultancy job, is also planning to watch the election results come in “from start to finish”.  

But, says Mr Fraser, 47, “If pushed I want Trump to win. Not through any love for or support of the man – I just think Biden and Harris would be terrible for the US. It’s astonishing to me that this is the best the country can put in front of the electorate.”

Four thousand miles and an ocean too far away from being able to vote in next week’s election, then, Turnberry locals still feel invested in its result. Along with the rest of the world, they will watch on as either Joe Biden or their controversial neighbour Donald Trump is elected president. And while opinions may vary across this remote Scottish coastal area, there is a prevailing sense that most wish they could return to a time before they were unwitting stakeholders in the election of the world’s highest office.  

“I’d like for the chat here to just be about community again, and not all about politics,” says Natalie Liddell. And, she adds rolling her eyes, “I’d like to not have to stay up all night every time there’s an American election on.”

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