Local trader, Keith Hales, has said he is “totally shocked at the extreme attitudes,” of some people in Leith after receiving a barrage of anti-English abuse for flying a St George’s Cross flag and bunting outside his shop on Leith Walk.
He said he received several strongly abusive comments as well as threats to remove the flags from passers-by, within hours of putting them up on Wednesday the 14th of August.
Mr Hales is the vice-chair of the Leith Business Association. This week the organisation is encouraging local traders to take part in a “Flag Festival,” in a bid to “celebrate Leith’s cultural diversity.”
Perhaps worst of all, rather than supporting Mr Hale, the authorities have sought to clamp down on the display of flags. When Mr Hale contacted the Police, he says he was asked to remove the bunting. He says a council Community Safety officer also echoed the Police request, justifying it on the grounds that the bunting “may cause offence.”
A response from the Neighbourhood Manager, Iain Buchanan, the following day said somewhat bluntly:
“Anyone wishing to put banners, bunting, flags etc on or attached to street furniture such as lighting columns, signs, poles should in the first instance contact the Neighbourhood Roads team. For our neighbourhood they can be emailed on [email protected] or called on 0131 529 7402.
“Permission will not be unreasonably withheld. Consideration will be given to public safety and the likely impact to the street furniture. If the request is to fit something to a lighting column the request will be referred to our lighting section.”
By the time Mr Hales received the email passers-by had already taken the flags from the front of his shop,
Despite the lack of apparent sympathy from public officials, local councillors did express their concern over the abuse.
SNP councillor for Leith, Adam McVey, urged Mr Hale to contact the Police and was unequivocal in his response. He said: “This kind of behaviour has no place in Scotland.”
Nick Gardiner, who is Labour councillor for Leith Ward noted the irony that the incident was: “Great for a ward that’s represented by two English, one Aussie, and one South African. With a Polish-English MP.”
Commenting in the Evening News, Labour councillor for Leith, Gordon Munro said: “I think it is shocking and terrible, it shows a real narrow-mindedness. If it was a Saltire or the national flag of Pakistan, Ireland, Wales or any other country, it wouldn’t happen. It is just because it’s St George’s.”
Here at Greener Leith we have little time for any kind of nationalism, English, Scottish, British or otherwise, but we are clear that racist abuse should have no place in our neighbourhood.
Mr Hales, has told Greener Leith that despite the abuse his experience, “will only serve to remind us that we need to redouble our efforts to promote the value of a multi-cultural community.”
Others may not be so brave. It’s understood that the whole sorry saga has already caused other traders in the area with different cultural backgrounds to think twice about their own participation in the proposed flag festival.
And that should probably give all Leithers pause for thought.