Sounding Off: A ‘Papa perspective’ allows us take the long view on global political storm
Thor Holt was raised in Papa Stour and now runs a communication business serving the oil, education and entrepreneurial sectors. He is a trained actor and now delivers “presentation masterclasses” around Scotland alongside former WoodGroup chief executive Bob Keiller. Previously he was a workshop leader at Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT) Boston, where he helped entrepreneurial teams with their presenting. He maintains a keen interest in American, and global, politics and offers his view on why US voters backed Donald Trump in favour of “establishment” politicians.
First the IndyRef, then Brexit, now Donald Trump. What’s next, you may well ask?
My Papa Stour upbringing taught me a number of things; how to drink of course, but probably more useful, a unique perspective on life.
When you’ve planned a trip for weeks, and then because of weather, the boat isn’t able to sail, you learn to deal with disappointment and take the long view.
Then at the Anderson High School – “Dö Weel and Persevere” – Mr Hay taught us to learn lessons from history and to question absolutely everything you are told.
If we put aside any disappointment we may be feeling around the US election, we should begin instead by questioning the American reality.
Those crazy gun-toting evangelicals have gone and elected the “next Hitler” haven’t they?
Not so fast.
We may think we understand America because we speak the same language and watch the same movies, but I’m not so sure. You probably think Trump is a dangerous blowhard, and he may very well be that and more. However, there has to be a reason why he got more votes from blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities than Mitt Romney when he was presidential candidate in 2012.
What might that be? Well, when I was doing some presentation consulting in Wyoming while the Romney versus Obama election was in progress. What struck me at the time, jet-lagged as I was, at 3am, the local lady working in hotel reception wanted to talk politics. So I listened and learned.
She felt Obama was the establishment candidate and did not represent the workers, even in 2012.
Then again, at the local store, the lady on the cash register wanted to talk politics. She took me upstairs to meet the store manager who wanted to get my UK perspective on the election.
They both expressed their sense of powerlessness in the face of the Democrat establishment and the globalisation juggernaut.
Obama had done nothing to stop manufacturing jobs leaving and more workers coming to drive wages downward.
Perhaps we in the UK actually have about as much understanding of the US workers, or middle class as they would term them, as the rest of Scotland has of Shetland and Up-Helly-A’. (Many lowland Scots seem to think Shetland is part of the Western Isles in my experience!)
Perhaps the reason so many people were shocked by Brexit and now by Trump, is that they have not been able to empathise with this working class perspective. In fact, believing this myself, I put my money where my mouth is unlike many pundits, and bet with my own cash, at 4:1 on a Trump win.
Brought up on a croft to a family of limited financial means, I’ve spent plenty of time as a worker myself. From building sites, grass cutting, stacking shelves and, based at Rova Head, picking up rubbish from roadsides with my own two hands. Then later as a coach and trainer, meeting listening to, and encouraging people from all social strata.
I’m here to tell you if you think Hillary and the Democrats, or closer to home, Labour in Scotland, really represent the working classes, you might want to try getting your hands dirty again. There’s a reason why the SNP managed to tap into a rich vein of “something missing” across Scotland.
And the political “shock results” have only just begun.
In communist Cuba, or old Soviet Russia, you could keep the workers down and hand them scraps. However, you can only suppress working class living standards for so long in a democracy.
For this reason, it doesn’t seem crazy to predict that in the next couple of years Merkel will be replaced by Frauke Petry, Marine Le Pen will win in France, Geert Wilders in Holland, and even the Sweden Democrats may yet prevail.
Be careful not to confuse this for a race-based argument. Working class wages are suppressed through mass immigration, whether that is legal or illegal, and this affects minority groups in the working class just as much.
There has to be a reason why many Muslims, Sikhs, and other minority groups voted for Brexit, and indeed for Trump. We would do well to remember, Trump beat Romney for black, gay, and Hispanic votes.
All these populist politicians are able to tap into working class anti-establishment feeling, regardless of minority backgrounds. If their rise is to be countered, courage to confront our own old political paradigms rather than demonising them is essential.
As a quarter Polish, second generation English immigrant to Shetland myself, I can certainly empathise with worried immigrant minority communities. However, If you think Donald Trump being rude or insentive about immigrants should be enough to disqualify him, you’ve not been on a night out in the same bars I frequented in 1990s’ Lerwick.
My parents came to Shetland in the early 1970s, when the English were perhaps not always entirely welcome or integrated and I’d suggest that the working class will forgive coarse language, but won’t forgive losing the meat from their table.
Let us take the long view then, a “Papa perspective” if you will, and remember that the Shetlander still has the best quality of living in the world.
Despite IndyRef, Brexit and Trump the world keeps on turning, you have a good life, with access to homegrown food, fishing, rowing, walking daa banks, home for a dram and then to bed with the sound of the sea lulling you to sleep – wonderful.
Perhaps, though, as you wake up from your slumbers, you might spare a thought for the working classes voters of Europe and the USA who may not have so many reasons to be cheerful.