By Ian Stephen
'Every time I open my mouth some fool speaks.' That is a phrase once attributed to a Stornoway schoolteacher but now the quote could apply to a more distant son of Lewis. The mythology of Donald Trump's mother as the fisherman's daughter from the Isle of Lewis who met her man and her fortune in New York City has been picked up by the international news media including BBCs's Newsnight programme. Their team's flying visit to Lewis was not much longer than the three minutes spared by Mr Trump for his photo-call at the croft house overlooking Broad Bay. But they did manage to photograph the site of that basic house where his mother was born, as well as the obligatory Callanish stones and ruined sheilings on a windswept moor.
The village of Tong is exposed to the northeast winds that have swept down from the Arctic. This could explain a lot. Newsnight's Stephen Smith could not find any islander willing to speak up for the renegade Republican. Several people did point out that his style of oratory was a marked contrast to the quieter and often ironic voice you will still often hear in the Outer Hebrides. In fairness I have to redress the balance by drawing attention to a few aspects of the phenomenal Mr Trump which might not be obvious at first.
Firstly, let's look at the seat of his mother's family. The MacLeods in the village of Tong were ruled by the wind. Fishermen were at the mercy of it – never shown for long. But that has clearly left an effect on subsequent generations. Some people have made very personal comment's on young Donald's hair, suggesting that there may be artificial intervention. But that northeaster has clearly induced an unmistakable wave in the hair of present day Trump-MacLeods. it is the result of centuries of winds from the high Arctic. When you take proper note of the geography of his half-homeland, it makes perfect sense.
Secondly, I would like to address the sense of disgrace and responsibility expressed by many islanders. This is nothing new. Another of our families who went across that pond - (remember that we are really next-door neighbours of New Yorkers) gave birth to one Marion Morrison. He was better known as John Wayne (from the Ness district of Lewis) and this was often mentioned 'back on the rock'. However he did make some very outspoken comments on the subject of the Vietnam War. At 'home' relations were seen to bury their heads in their hands as the macho Marion spoke of a return to patriotism.
Personally, I have not moved very far, in my own life though I have lived at several different addresses in the town of Stornoway. There is a great tradition of widely-travelled islanders returning to question the wisdom of widely held local beliefs. In this respect we can perhaps learn from Mr Trump, as one of the great winners in the business community. I realize that there are different notions of 'success' but I never really understood the concept. From Donald's exemplary story I now know that you have to have about four bankruptcies behind you to be truly successful. Otherwise you must clearly be a 'loser'.
I could tell Newsnight that the strange rise of this politician was much discussed in the street and in the kitchens of our island. I would also say that an element of apprehension has entered. With each insulting and unreasonable statement his popularity seems to rise. Some of us remember a time when the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was a long-standing joke in Private Eye. Then it just stopped being funny as the ruler had the power to commit atrocities. I have just returned from a visit to Lahore, Pakistan. I was hosted by a family of publishers and booksellers across three generations.
Of course it was un-nerving to pass a guard with a pump-action shotgun, to enter a bookshop. Then I found something very familiar in the ethos of hospitality, curiosity and debate. it reminded me very much of my own family background, on Lewis. The Lahore Literary Festival went ahead despite the constant threat of terrorism.
There was something very moving in Barrack Obama's admission that he had failed to unite the United States of America. That polarisation can also be seen all across Europe, at present. When zones of conflict range from the Korean border to the Ukraine to the middle-East, it must be a time for reason rather than a pixellated battle of winners and losers. In that light, the wild jester with the fair wave might not be funny any more.
Most people in Lewis have North American cousins. I'd guess that there is something of a sense of illogical guilt - a disgrace in the extended family. I'd also guess that most of us really do feel for our tolerant and liberal friends in the States. Stephen Smith did ask a fair question, in counterpoint, though it did not survive the edit. It went something like, 'If Donald Trump is a disgrace to the Island, who is the hero?'
I did not have to think about that. Murdo MacFarlane was known as 'The Melbost Bard. He hailed from a village only a few miles across the tidal head of Broad Bay, from that croft where Donald Trump's mother was raised. His family emigrated to Canada but then returned. Murdo is a hero, not because he came back but because his melodies and lyrics range world-wide from his own sure footing. He made songs of the mechanised tragedy of the First World War but also of the threat to all the world at the height of the Cold War.
Ian Stephen was born on Lewis and lives there still. He is the author of the novel 'A Book of Death and Fish'. This year he is taking part in an exchange between Scottish and Pakistani storytellers and illustrators, in partnership with the Edinburgh Book Festival.