Chas Booth: Britannia should stay in Leith

Chas Booth. Picture: Scott Taylor

Chas Booth. Picture: Scott Taylor

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I’m not a great fan of the monarchy. I have nothing against them personally, you understand – it’s just that I think our leaders should be elected, and accountable to the people, rather than being chosen by an accident of birth.

Having said that, I recognise that many people are fascinated by the monarchy, and its undoubted place in history. There’s a lot of enjoyment in visiting royal palaces, castles and other places of regal significance. And in the case of the ward that I represent, Leith, I’m glad they do. Because the leading tourist attraction in Leith, and one of the top ten attractions in Edinburgh, is the Royal Yacht Britannia, berthed next to Ocean Terminal in the docks.

Open to the public as a floating museum and five-star visitor attraction since 1998, Britannia attracts over 300,000 visitors a year. The charitable trust which owns and manages the ship employs around 120 people directly, but many more jobs in Leith and the wider Edinburgh economy are supported indirectly through the ship’s visitors. In the last year, the Trust had a turnover of nearly £6m, representing a significant economic impact in Leith and the wider city. Britannia is also part of our industrial heritage, as a Clyde-built ship launched in 1953.

But some English Tory MPs and the Telegraph newspaper have plans for Britannia, apparently. They want to recommission the ship as a post-Brexit floating trade embassy. They seem to think that countries such as Japan or the United States, which have been highly critical of Brexit, and have made clear we must wait to sign trade deals behind the EU and other nations, will suddenly change their tune and move us to the front of the queue when they see Britannia. Her 1950s stately charm will do wonders for our trade negotiations, they claim. But of course, international trade negotiations in these days of modern technology and high-speed connectivity tend to move quickly. Yachts, on the other hand, do not.

And yet, astonishingly, this half-baked plan to refloat a museum piece has secured debating time in Westminster. On 11 October Jake Berry, Tory MP for Rossendale and Darwen, will lead a debate entitled “Reintroduction of the Royal Yacht Britannia for the purpose of international trade”.

I don’t believe we should turn the clock back to the 1950s. I don’t believe a 60-year old ship will aid our trade negotiations. And I particularly don’t accept that a successful tourist attraction, which employs many people in Leith and makes a positive contribution to the Edinburgh economy, should be put at risk by some people’s dewy-eyed nostalgia for a return to the 1950s.

For the good of the city, this plan should be scuppered, and fast.

Chas Booth is Green councillor for Leith