The History of Leith

April 11, 2012

The end of a era

Since’,1912 it has been my privilege, following ancient
customs,’ to welcome in this Church, on the first Sabbath
after the annual election of Town Councillors, the Provost,
Magistrates, and Town Councillors of the Burgh of
Leith. Owing to the decision of the Imperial Parliament,
that pleasure in future is to be denied us. The
erasure of Leith from the list of the burghs of Scotland
calls for a few words from the Minister of the Church
which for so many centuries has been closely associated
with the life of the town.
From the days when our national hero, Eobert the
Bruce, gave a charter to Edinburgh bestowing rights
over Leith, the relations between the Capital and the
Port have been of a more or less uneasy and chequered
character. When I think of them, I always recall the
parallel picture, in classical times, of Athens and the
Piraeus. In the midst of the exhilaration of the time
of the Keform Bill,- Leith emerged from its vassalage
and entered on a period of independence, which few,
if any, can have dreamt would ever come to an end.
But with other times came other methods and ideals of
local government. For various reasons, the unification
of areas arid the consolidation of authorities came into
vogue over the Kingdom. Attempts, unsuccessful at
first, were made to incorporate Leith with Edinburgh.
The final attack, however, made this year, has proved
successful, in spite of a resolute resistance before both
Houses of Parliament offered by the Council, headed by
the Provost, a spirited defence led by the local Member,
and both authorised by an overwhelming plebiscite of
the townsfolk. Few expressions of local civic patriotism
of a more unequivocal kind have ever been seen in
the land.
Changing, as one could not help doing, his point of
view from that of a defender of the independence of the
burgh to that of a speculative observer, one did not find
it possible to be unduly optimistic about the result of
the contest, even although one knew how efficiently the
administration of the affairs of the town was carried, on,
and how ardent our municipal patriotism continued to
be. The reasons for this uncertainty were these :—The
failure of Leith either to absorb first, or, in the end, to
prevent Edinburgh absorbing Grauton and Portobello,
had left the map, from a strategic point of view,
awkwardly drawn for the next battle. Then the absorption
of Govan and Partick by Glasgow had revealed
the trend of the official and bureaucratic mind. Despite
all difficulties, the unanimity of our defence was such
that it is not easy to understand why Parliament extinguished
the vigorous light of our torch of independence.
It would not be true to say that the level of our
municipal life was always and uniformly high. Most
observers agree that under the reign of the last three
Provosts there has been a signal improvement in the
tone of our communal life, and that no Scottish town
has excelled us in that respect. If it is not too presumptuous,
I should like to offer our hearty thanks to
the Provost, Magistrates, and Council,,,

Source-from a talk recorded on the South leith Magazine-1920

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