Alex Salmond may have trumped Ian Paisley senior, perhaps by studying Ian Junior and following suit. For a day or two last week, our First Minister seemed confident that tycoon Donald Trump would shift his billion-pound golf resort from Scotland to the North. The proposal for a 1,400-acre development on a beautiful stretch of the Scottish coastline had been refused planning permission a fortnight ago by Aberdeenshire Council. In response, the perma-tanned mogul stomped off, announcing that he'd take his business elsewhere.
Moving with remarkable alacrity for a man of his years, the Rev Ian arranged a meeting with Trump in New York on Tuesday and came away with high hopes that Trumptown would arise on the shores of Antrim instead.
" It is important that we demonstrate that we are open for business," he said.
Mr Trump allowed that Dr Paisley was "a legend".
Meanwhile, however, it emerged that Scottish First Minister Salmond had also been on the case and had travelled the previous day in his official limousine to meet a group of Trump's advisors in an Aberdeen hotel. Twelve hours after that, the Scottish Executive 'called in' the planning application. The effect is that a decision on whether the project will go ahead at Balmedie has been taken out of the hands of the local authority and will now be made at Hollyrood in Edinburgh rather than in the council offices of Aberdeenshire. Now, here's a thing. It turns out that members of the Scottish Executive are constitutionally debarred from playing a role in planning decisions. So, opposition politicians clamoured to know, on what basis had Mr Salmond hot-footed to his rendezvous with Trump executives?
First Minister Salmond had a ready explanation. He hadn't been acting as First Minister at his meeting with the Trump group, but as the local MSP: "As the constituency MSP not only am I absolutely entitled but I have a bounden duty ... to meet people on all issues of importance to my constituency."
But he had travelled to the meeting in his official car, driven by the First Ministerial chauffeur? That was simply because "it made practical sense", explained a spokesman. What's more, Mr Salmond told BBC Scotland: "I had no idea that the application was going to be called in the next day. I had absolutely no idea about that." Which is rather reminiscent of Ian Junior's explanation of his intervention in the deal involving a parcel of public land at Ballee, near Ballymena, which a group including Mr Seymour Sweeney wanted to buy. The Department of Social Development had valued the land at £75m. The junior Minister denounced this as "extortionate". The land was eventually sold to the Sweeney group for £50m. SDLP MLA Declan O'Loan has made an official complaint about Minister Paisley intervening in this manner. But Mr Paisley is adamant: he hadn't been acting as a minister in the matter, but as the local MP doing his duty by constituents. O'Loan also suggested that the £25m might have come in handy, for the DSD for example, given that DSD Minister Margaret Richie is sorely strapped for cash for social housing.
That brings us back to the prize of the golf resort which MSP Salmond's emulation of Assemblyman Paisley may have snatched from north Antrim, despite the efforts of First Minister Paisley.
Mr Trump's plan includes housing, although not of the social sort. It comprises two 18-hole golf courses, an 'elite' golf academy, a club house, a conference centre, a 450-bedroom five-star hotel, an accommodation block for 400 staff, 950 holiday homes and 500 houses in a 'gated community'. An airstrip would facilitate private jets delivering the anticipated stream of weekend golf-trippers from the US. At 1,400 acres, the development would cover more than two square miles of coastal scenery. The houses, it is reported, would go on the market at £300,000 to £500,000 a pop. Hence the need for a gated domain: couldn't have rough neds in their bunnets and beards traipaising along the boulevards, gawping.
The accommodation block suggests that few locals would be employed to wash dishes, clear the drains and generally cater to the guests. Indeed, the project has the appearance of a fenced-off enclave.
Established practice in Scotland is for rejected planning bids to be appealed through an official process. Stories are legion of farmers being barred from building a butt'n'ben for the son or daughter and grandchildren, on the ground that the land isn't zoned for houses. But no appeals procedure for Mr Trump. Instead his people meet with the First Minister in his capacity as an MSP, following which the application is taken out of the hands of unhelpful local interests.
We might be forgiven for concluding that there's one planning law for the poor, none for the rich.
The councillor whose casting vote initially denied Mr Trump the go-ahead, LibDem Martin Ford, told the Scottish Herald: "There might be a view out there that there are some applications and some applicants that we are simply not allowed to refuse. That is a big problem for our whole planning system."
We know a bit about that in Northern Ireland, too.