Election’s “crazy man” targets disengaged voters
“Hello, I’m the crazy man from the election,” is the phrase Stuart Hill uses to introduce himself on the doorsteps of prospective voters.
The dark horse candidate, who is campaigning for Shetland and Orkney independence, is more than aware of his previous position as a figure of ridicule in the Shetland community.
But people are starting to take him seriously, he feels, despite his unusual history in Shetland.
The perennial media figure first came to prominence in 2001 when he was the cause of eight emergency call outs while making his way up to Shetland in a 14ft boat.
He eventually washed up in Shetland and has called the isles home for the past 17 years, spending many of those challenging the authority of the courts in his contention that Shetland is an independent state.
At first he was met with ridicule, but over time people have come to take his ideas seriously, Mr Hill contends.
This is due to his belief that every maverick idea must go through three stages. The first stage is “ridicule” and then comes “vehement opposition”. Both of these stages have now passed, he feels.
Finally, the ideas become accepted as “self-evident” and this is the stage where we now find ourselves, Mr Hill says.
And if the views put across on the doorsteps of Sandveien are anything to go by Mr Hill should not be brushed aside as a comedy entry by the established parties.
Of all the people Mr Hill spoke to, with The Shetland Times in tow, only one told the madcap candidate that he wouldn’t be voting for him outright. Instead he found plenty of undecided voters willing to listen to his eccentric ideas.
This is despite Mr Hill making it clear that a vote for him is a vote for “not sending anyone to Westminster”.
“I have no intention of pledging allegiance to a foreign occupying power”, Mr Hill said.
Instead, the Shors candidate tells voters that a win for him would mean an immediate exit from the United Kingdom, which he claims has no ownership rights over Shetland and Orkney.
“On 9th June all the legal work has already been done,” he told one voter interested in his research.
“You will wake up on 9th June owning all the land, the seabed and the seas. Any negotiations after that will start from that point.”
Asked whether his intention not to attend parliament is a cop-out Mr Hill counters that a vote for the other candidates is the real cop-out, with them becoming, “one of 650 MPs with a fat salary and a small voice.”
And this is the beauty of Mr Hill’s position, he can sell voters their own vision of utopia. On 9th June he becomes an irrelevance, he says, and the people of Shetland take charge of their own affairs.
This message does well for him in Sandveien, where he intends to target people “who would not normally vote” and who feel alienated by the mainstream parties.
But at the first doorstep he is confronted with a sceptical voter keen to know what sources Mr Hill has consulted. She later concedes that during regular trips to Norway she is often told the isles should still belong to the Scandinavian country, but whether Mr Hill had done enough to secure her vote she would not reveal.
The next person we meet is John Thomson. He tells Mr Hill: “I like some of what you say but I’m a 25 year SNP man.”
Undeterred by the shaky start Mr Hill later finds his form. At one door he meets Jessie-May Hunter, who accepts a poster after Mr Hill tells her the isles are subsidising the UK by £82 million, money that will be kept in Shetland if he wins the election.
Then he meets a pensioner who won’t give her name to The Shetland Times, but tells Mr Hill that she will “probably” vote for him.
The Londoner (who was born close to Stuart Hill’s hometown) said that Scottish nationalists “really rile” her and that she is strongly opposed to centralisation.
“Without Shetland’s resources Scotland would be sunk”, she continued.
And finally, before being whisked off by a Belgian film crew making a documentary, there is time to speak to two more voters.
Robert Groat and Henry Wallington, a little bleary-eyed early on a Saturday, listen attentively before accepting bumper stickers and posters with “Hill” emblazoned on them.
Will they vote for him though? The answer is a not an entirely disheartening “maybe”.