Roaming the nearly deserted slopes of the Trump Turnberry golf course, carved into the rugged west coast of South Ayrshire, Scotland, any remarks on the notorious boss remain elusive.
“We’ve all been sworn to secrecy, I’m afraid,” replied an elderly receptionist at the club house.
Farther into the dunes, enquiries to a groundskeeper laying fresh turf elicited an apologetic smile: “Sorry, no speak English!”
Donald Trump’s trip to Scotland came as citizens were voting whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union. The "leavers" won overall, although the Scots voted 62 percent to remain, and leader Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland is "highly likely" to hold another referendum on independence from the UK.
Trump called the Brexit vote "a great thing" and said the drop in the pound would be good for local businesses.
He's here to officially open a local business of his own — a 103-room hotel and resort — after a reported $300 million investment. That coincided with demonstrations by indignant Scots outside the hotel.
“Trump makes a big deal of his Scottish heritage but I think in general Scots have diametrically opposed values to him,” said protest organizer Jonathon Shafi. “We want to get the message across that he is more of a pariah than a statesman, and to show solidarity with the millions of Americans who think he is beyond the pale.”
Jill, who only gave her first name, splutters at the mention of the Republican candidate.
“Och, he’s a maniac! Horrible man. I would hate to think that anyone would really feel like that about other people, but listen to what comes out of his mouth, about Mexicans, Muslims, women …”
Jill finds Trump’s visit coinciding with the crucial vote too much to bear. The British referendum has been characterized by a heightening of anti-immigrant rhetoric on both sides of the debate. The tragic low point of the campaign came on June 16, when a neo-Nazi gunman assassinated a young lawmaker and mother of two, Jo Cox.
“This whole thing has brought out the worst in everyone. Look at that poor MP, it’s pure evil what happened to her. We have enough war and hatred in our world without Trump coming here and spouting more. But people say he’s the voice of things that American people are afraid to say, so I don’t know.”
Hotel guest Steve Lawrence, 55, a consultant from South Carolina, rests after playing a few holes and watches a lone bagpiper march across the front lawn. Lawrence’s face contorts into a grimace at the mention of Trump, but relaxes at the news of his arrival being met by protest.
“Ha ha, really?! You gotta love free speech.”
Lawrence professes an interest in the referendum engulfing the country, remarking: “Britain will regret it. People don’t know how complex and lengthy these trade agreements are to make if you leave. There’s more of an emotional basis to the Brexit argument than a rational one. I mean, at the end of the day any country needs immigration, without it it’ll shrivel up and die.”
In the adjacent village of Maidens, Sandra Wood, 61, holds a conversation with friends at the harbor as fishing boats clatter in the background.
“I’ll tell you what,” Wood advises, wagging a finger, “he gave a lot of people in this town jobs, which is more than I can say for the government. And have you seen that hotel? It was falling to pieces before he came. Aye, Trump’s welcome here, we’ll have a fresh glass waiting for him if he visits.”
Boat repairman Jim, 60, shrugs: “I wonder if he’ll come here at all. A Brit tried to shoot him the other day.”
Jim is referring to Michael Sandford, from England, who tried to grab a police officer’s holstered gun at a Trump event Saturday in Las Vegas, with the intention to assassinate the candidate.
Trump frequently boasts of his Scottish roots — his mother Mary MacLeod was born on Lewis island in the the Outer Hebrides — yet his coarse diatribes against minorities have drawn ire in his homeland. After his inflammatory statement in December calling for a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, the Scottish government stripped Trump of a business ambassadorship and Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University rescinded his honorary degree.
While in the UK, the property baron is also being snubbed by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who called his remarks “stupid,” and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, who referred to him as “obnoxious.” A petition to bar Trump from entering the UK quickly gained more than 568,000 signatures, leading to a parliamentary debate.
Regarding Britain’s referendum on EU membership, Trump’s spokeswoman recently philosophized that “America is here because of its own little Brexit.”
And the candidate himself told Fox Business, “I don’t think anyone should listen to me as I haven’t focused on it much but my inclination would be to get out.”
After Turnberry, Trump will fly north to the Menie Estate, one of his other golf resorts in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, where he may get no less of a frosty reception.
Landowner David Milne lives in an old coast guard station, overlooking the Trump International Golf Links, and is a member of a lobbying group called Tripping Up Trump.
Milne has been locked in an acrimonious, decade-long battle with Trump. He accuses the tycoon of using threats, electricity blackouts, water shortages and obligatory purchase orders (eminent domain) to bully Milne’s family from their land, which they refused to sell.
On Tuesday, Milne and another neighbor, farmer Michael Forbes — whom Trump has called “a pig” — defiantly hoisted Mexican flags in preparation for the Donald’s arrival.
“Very simply, it was a sign of solidarity for the Mexican people,” Milne says by phone, “We have been insulted, derided, degraded and sidelined by this man ourselves, so we know exactly what it’s like. It’s a little symbol to say ‘We’re still here. This is our home.’”
Trump's repeated incantations to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and make the latter pay for it, seem less frightening from the perspective of Milne's garden.
“About five years ago,” Milne says, “they tore down my fence, built a new one and sent me a bill — which I’m proud to say to this date remains unpaid.”