A Celebration of Leith


Posted by in October's Magazine

Deidre Brock
MP for Edinburgh North and Leith

It’s 99 years since Leith was captured, annexed, corralled, encircled and appropriated by Edinburgh. We’d fought off the Romans in 211 and we were independent (apart from an unfortunate couple of decades of occupation by English forces at the end of the 13th century) until Robert the Bruce gave our harbour to Edinburgh in 1329.

That was the start of Edinburgh’s expansionist plans that finally came to fruition in the dark days of 1920 when Leith was incorporated – against the will of the people – into Edinburgh. The indignity has not been forgotten and it is not forgiven. Hell hath no fury like a Leither scorned and this community has a long memory.

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Besides which, we’re not really part of Edinburgh just because someone else has said we are – Leith is different. There may be auld toons and new toons up the hill beside thon castle and Harvey Nicks but Leithers still know the value of neighbourhood and community. We might not be dripping with jewels and furs but we’re rich in friendship and solidarity. Edinburgh might be Scotland’s capital but Leith’s big heart beats a rhythm better than any dance troupe up there can manage.

The Old Kirkgate, Leith (1881) by Telemaco Signorini

You can hardly blame the Edinburgers for wanting to join their town to ours; the jealousy must have been terrible to bear. You couldn’t blame them for wanting to hang onto us now, either. We lost our council and our sheriff court – although the old town hall and sheriff court are still there in the Leith police station and you can visit them on Open Doors Day. We lost some of our autonomy but we kept the essence of what makes Leith.

We’ve still got our Registrar Office so newly hatched Leithers can be properly registered. Weddings likewise – matches made in Leith bestow blessings not available elsewhere – and Leithers who have said goodbye can have their last moments registered here. We’ve got our theatre, too, and the team bringing it back to life deserve all the support and encouragement we can give them. That was part of the dowry we got from the merger and we should treasure it.

There’s plenty in Leith to celebrate, plenty to enhance, plenty we can be proud of and enjoy together. There’s also a fair amount that needs improving, lives that are stunted by poverty, houses that need investment, roads that need sorted, communities that need support. We have to keep agitating for that investment and we have to keep protecting what we do have. We’ve already had to mount a campaign to keep the Registrar and no doubt we’ll have to do it again. Let’s make sure we make things better, and let’s make sure that people’s lives are better. Let’s also make a noise about our home.

Let’s talk about what’s good, let’s celebrate Leith and let’s commemorate that 1920 perfidy. I don’t know exactly how to mark a century of partnership but I’m sure that the smart folk of the Leith Festival will have a ton of ideas and I know that LeithLate is looking at possibilities so it’s already getting started.

Brexit is a dark cloud and people are dancing a macabre jig of isolation around it. Let’s do something different, celebrate the future and commemorate the past

Whatever we do, though, let’s make it a celebration of Leith. Leith was Scotland’s portal to the world for centuries so let’s mark that internationalism that’s at the very heart of our community. Scotland traded from here through the ports of Europe so let’s engage our European friends and neighbours in celebrating Leith.

Don’t forget, either, that the future is coming at us just as fast as the past is receding and all around us are tasters of the companies and industries that will make Leith anew in the years to come. There will be a film studio soon, hopefully, in the old Pelamis building in the port; there’s a company called Nova Innovation near the Shore that’s at the cutting edge of tidal renewables; there’s a company making seasonings from seaweed along towards Granton – Mara Seaweed has even had a feature or two on TV food programmes.

Things are uncertain just now, Brexit is a dark cloud and people are dancing a macabre jig of isolation around it so let’s do something a bit different. Let’s celebrate the future as we commemorate the past, let’s reach out to the world as we check our anchors are safe in Scotland, let’s have our community make sure that we’re all okay together. There are two kinds of Leither – those lucky enough to be born here and those sensible enough to move here – and we’re bound together with a love of the place and its community. Let’s celebrate Leith.

If we’re feeling really generous we can maybe even invite a few of the douce chiels of the New Town down to join in.

Twitter: @DeidreBrock

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