Deidre Brock: This small business shopping malarkey

Posted by in March's Magazine

Small, when it comes to business, is the new big. In six years we’ve seen a 37 per cent growth in small business in Edinburgh North and Leith – we’re a pretty entrepreneurial bunch, given half a chance!

Local businesses selling, making, creating things and fixing things are the lifeblood of Leith’s community, and also the backbone of our economy. Whether start-ups, scale-ups, digital, creatives, green & ethical businesses or family-run stores – we’ve got them by the bucket load. It’s good that we give them a shot-in-the arm at this time of year with Small Business Saturday.


Supporting independent retailers is, in its way, an act of defiance against the big corporate beasts that seek to dominate the landscape wherever they land. Those colourful, offbeat shops that line Leith Walk are a frontline defence against the bland homogenous brown of the global brands. It gives Leith an unmistakeable identity – crafted from the mix of community here – at a time when town centres can increasingly feel like Stepford Wives, populated by identical, formulaic stores so you don’t even know where in the world you are.

 It’s also good for the soul, this small business shopping malarkey; putting money in the pockets of your local bakers, builders, crafters and grafters feels way better than feeding an offshore account for the likes of Amazon. When it comes to food, it also happens to taste better. Try a Portuguese custard tart from Casa Amiga, a cake from Mimi’s, or fresh Turkish bread from Akdeniz. There are just so many great wee places and different tastes to explore. We also have some cracking, unique creative talent to support – just look at the not-for-profit Scottish Design Exchange in Ocean Terminal if you want some original present ideas.

Shopping local is also a wee bit of a rebellion against the relentless rise of robots. It’s refreshing to have actual humans to talk to and actual objects to pick up and inspect. Far better that than a computer algorithm directing me to things it calculates, via some stereotyped formula, that I’d be interested in buying (for a women over 40 that’s inevitably things like anti-ageing beauty products). I’d prefer to look in a window and browse for myself, thanks very much. If I need help I don’t think I want to call on Alexa or Siri or some dodgy Chatbot automated helpdesk. I’d prefer to ask a person in a shop, who recognises my Antipodean-Scots accent and can fire up a conversation on pretty much anything. People, who know their customers by name, can tell jokes, understand irony and also have in-depth knowledge and pride in their products. Who would prefer online to that?

It’s not just shopping by computers that threatens the continued success of the little folks eking out a living on our high streets. The idiosyncratic nature of Edinburgh North and Leith makes it understandably popular but this also leads to the problem of rising house prices, soaring rents, and the potential to squeeze out the very things that make the place sparkle. Big developers smell the cash and cruise in to build unsympathetic big blocks like the student flats planned for Stead’s Place, demolishing all in their way. I’m not against development – we need more homes and change is part of life in a city, but it should be change that enhances and embraces community instead of crushing it under the heel of the corporates. We have to stay on our toes on this one.

” Big developers smell the cash and cruise in to build unsympathetic big blocks like the student flats planned for Stead’s Place, demolishing all in their way

Despite all the challenges, it’s fabulous to see so many small businesses standing tall and doing so well. It’s also good to see so many women are running their own show these days; the Federation of Small Businesses found a staggering rise in small businesses owned by women in Scotland, up by 76% from 2012, creating 231,000 jobs and making £8.8 billion for Scotland’s economy. This growth has been boosted by a supportive environment and a raft of decent policies from the Scottish Government and the City Council; things like the small business bonus scheme and successful strategies to make Edinburgh an incubator for start-ups. But there is another looming danger that could destroy all these efforts and damage the very fabric of our community – the UK’s self-destructive decision to leave the EU.

Small businesses are less prepared and less able to adapt to leaving the EU than big businesses – especially since, like all of us, no-one really has a clue exactly what that impact will be yet. We do know it will affect trade, the costs of imports, employment, economic growth and the ability of businesses to get the staff they need – we just don’t know how bad it will be or what to do to mitigate against it. As a port we’ve always been an internationally minded diverse area, so the deliberate decision to strip us of free movement is a particularly difficult pill to swallow. I dread to see European shops shutting up and our community weakened by what Peter Gabriel described as a ‘white-bread Brexit’. Many of the locals who add flavour and life to Leith hail from other parts of this continent, and they would be sadly missed if they chose, or feel forced, to walk away.

 I still hope we can halt the madness of Brexit – something like 78 per cent of this constituency who had a say voted against. In the meantime, let’s get behind our small traders from wherever they come and keep our wee corner of the world thriving.

Twitter: @deidrebrock

DeidreBrock is MP for Edinburgh North and Leith

2 responses to “Deidre Brock: This small business shopping malarkey”

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