The People’s Republic of Leith


Posted by in August's Magazine

Imagine if you could pioneer your own country, your own political state. What would it look like? When I first moved here I had a daydream of somehow chopping out Edinburgh from the landmass and towing it (with a very big tugboat) to warmer climes, eventually to reside in Sydney Harbour. That way I could have all my Edinburgh mates together in a lovely climate. Can you imagine how fab that would be? Since then I’ve learnt many Scots actually prefer cooler weather, so I guess not for everyone. But the good thing about using your imagination is that you can conjure up your perfect place to live, create your own personal utopia to escape to.

Whilst out on recent runs and cycles, I’ve been pondering what a Republic of Leith could look like. I was inspired by Zsusana Farrell’s excellent opening speech for the Leither’s Don’t Litter exhibition:

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“If I were the president of the People’s Republic of Leith I wouldn’t clean for the Queen. I’d clean for the swans, the moorhens and the wagtails. Maybe even for the seagulls. I’d clean for the wee ones in the play parks so they have a safe place where they can run around without cutting themselves on broken beer bottles.

I‘d invite graffiti artists to paint all the bins with bright colours to make them appealing to human beings, not just the seagulls. So when we celebrate Hibs’ next cup final win, Leith Links wouldn’t look like a dump the next day – even if I had to live for another 114 years, to see it. By that time Hibs would be the greenest football team in Scotland, and I don’t mean the colour of their shirts.

If I were the president of the People’s Republic Of Leith I’d organise a proper daily fruit and veg market where you could buy wonderful fresh produce that wasn’t wrapped in plastic…”

Zsusana’s flight of fancy made me realise that my Republic of Leith would actually look pretty similar to how Leith is now (minus the rubbish), with the densely populated arterial route of Leith Walk bustling with small multicultural businesses and food stops. In the recent EU referendum, North Edinburgh and Leith had the highest remain vote of 78% – I interpret this as the acceptance that a diverse cultural mix is what makes this port town historically exciting and special. Leith is a sum of its parts and is welcoming to one and all.

In my dream Leith, there would be fewer cars and more cycling and walking, what with everything so close together. There would be art on every corner including murals and sculpture. The local legal currency may even be bananas, like Rab Choudhry’s Leith Late banknotes.

There’s a high proportion of folk who work in the finance industry living in Leith, together we have the knowhow to set up our own Bank of Leith. The Bank of Leith would look favourably on community projects that seek to improve the lives of Leithers. There would be a whole load more dosh available than the meagre scrapings of Leith Decides. A sense of community would be at the hub of all development decisions and instead of Starbucks our brilliant wee indie cafes would flourish. Maybe local author and general rabble-rouser Kevin Williamson could reopen his Purple Haze café?

The green spaces would be connected, a green bridge over Leith Walk linking Pilrig Park with its bigger sister and home of golf, Leith Links. There would be an outdoor gym and water fountains in the parks. Kids could cycle to school without being worried about punctured tyres from broken glass or being squashed by cars treating the streets like a speedway circuit.

There would be more jobs within the community so residents could find work locally without having to commute long distances. After all, if you live, work and socialise in the same neighbourhood your sense of belonging increases. In fact a significant number of folk I’ve talked to who both live and work in Leith commented that post-referendum, Leith is the only home to them. It is in effect where they belong.

It’s a proud hub of misfits, weirdos and artists… and also bankers, nurses and teachers. In fact Leith has such a diverse population in ethnicity, age, outlook and attitude we could treat the combined community as one massive brain of knowledge with strong connections.

In MyDreamLeith everyone would have responsibility, like Iceland (also whipping England at the fitba’), with a democratic people’s parliament. If everyone had a responsibility to take turns at being a politician wouldn’t politics be a completely different game? Career politicians would be a thing of the past. I’ve been reliably informed that the former Council Chambers on Queen Charlotte Street are currently vacant, perhaps we can set up there.

If all of the citizens of the Republic of Leith took responsibility for their own actions, what kind of place would that be?

Zsusana’s full Leither’s Don’t Litter speech is available on their Facebook page; ‘Republic of Leith’ T-shirts are available from madeinleith.com

Info: What does your ideal Republic of Leith look like?
Twitter: @tracygriffen
Facebook: /griffenfitnesss

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