Cherish the neighbour you don’t know


Posted by in July's Magazine

Oh, what a time to be alive and in Leith, vibrant (see the editor’s November piece for a definition) Leith with all its glories and flaws, all its beauties and its poxes. At the beginning of what might be a very fine summer (try not to jinx it, Brock, try not to jinx it) the Leith Gala was great fun, as always (well done to Phil Attridge and the board members of the Festival), and Leithers lapped it up.

From the market stalls, where all sorts of treasures and priceless family heirlooms were found, to the fairground and the kids’ zone, people were enjoying one another’s company. The live music was back with only one or two bad words sneaking out. From toddlers to pensioners, from young lovers to old flames, they were all there and The Links was a joyous riot of people intent on having fun – just the kind of thing that all communities should have.

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People born here mingled happily with people born elsewhere (even Edinburghers were given a welcome!) and they were speaking to each other rather than at each other, drinking it all in, soaking it up and having a grand old time. It’s something I love about Leith – people’s differences create curiosity far more than suspicion; it’s far more “how are you doing?” than “where are you from?”

We should treasure that and hang ontoit,make it a thing we do and a part of who we are because it makes us better and makes Leith better. There nothing more important than family, community and society, nothing more significant than feeling safe where you live and feeling part of a community that accepts you as you are.

It’s a fundamental part of us now and it annoys some people because there is strength in community and strength in common action that means they can never control us. We have to be vigilant not to let them make us mistrust each other because there are going to be plenty of people trying to take that community feeling away from us over the next few years. There are politicians in the UK Government who will tell you not to trust your neighbour, your workmate and the guy you see in the street.

These are people who have made an art-form out of talking to people about ‘others’ as in “you and I are good people but those others …” and they have no conscience – one day you find out you’re an ‘other’ too and you’ll watch as the horrors of their social policies are focussed on you and the people you care about.

They’ve been weakened by Theresa May’s snap election and she is, at the time of writing, speaking to the DUP about forming a coalition to get them through the next five years. The DUP is possibly the only party on these islands that thinks that the Tories are a bunch of softies who are too kind to the weak, the poor, the ill, the disadvantaged and the different. If you think you know someone who bears a grudge you should meet the DUP – if the talks are successful, the next few years aren’t going to be pretty and we’re going to need each other a lot more.

So when you hear a Government Minister talking about extremists and the need for constant vigilance, look at them with a bit of suspicion and wonder to yourself who the real extremist is. When you hear a politician say that a class of people need to be kept under surveillance without a court knowing about it, remember, we could be next. If far-right groups try to march or demonstrate to spread their bile, join the counter-protest or complain about the licence.

More than that – when your neighbour is afraid, stand by their side; if someone casts doubt on someone else’s good intentions, ask them why; when a group is blaming a stranger for things going wrong because they’re not the same as us, be on the side of the stranger. We need each other and we need to be strong together. We’re going to need the neighbour we don’t know and the workmate we think is an oddball. The only way we do better is by being friendly together.

Let’s do that, and meet again on Leith Links next year on the 2nd Saturday in June and celebrate our differences and our variety again. In the meantime, let’s give a wee bit of thanks to the people who make it possible every year: Phil Attridge, Nick Gardner, David Kay, Rita Crombie, Mary Moriarty, May Jack, Neil Buchanan, Pauline Fordyce, Dean Marinello, Tracy Griffin, Gladness Cole, and Mo Naveira De Sousa. Maybe even offer to help them out a bit next year.

Deidre Brock is MP for Edinburgh North & Leith

Twitter: DeidreBrock

Photograph: Eli Do Rego

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