Saturday, 5 April 2014

Irreplaceable Margo, 1943-2014

Today I was supposed to be using this post to mark five months since the passing of Nelson Mandela, a year since the passing of my pet cat Cherry and twenty years since the untimely death of Kurt Cobain. But a day ago Scotland lost one of its finest political talents, Margo MacDonald and so it would be more fitting to remember someone who will be enormously missed at such an important time in our nation's history.

In the Scots Independent shortly after the SNP's historical victory in 2011 the results were shown with the names of the parties abbreviated. And there alongside SNP, Lab, Con, Green and Lib Dem was the name Margo. Not Independent or Ind or Margo Macdonald but quite simply Margo. As Alex Salmond said yesterday in tribute to a woman who stood out from all the others "Very few politicians are recognised and known to the public by their first name - Margo was."

For all independence campaigners she was the person who by winning the 1973 by-election in Govan helped change the perception of Scottish nationalism from being all about beardy men obsessed with the past to being about a genuine concern for social welfare in some of the poorest parts of the country. She had a way of winning arguments because she could hold her ground with great conviction and immense humour.

I first heard of Margo MacDonald some 7 or 8 years ago when I first took a real interest in Scottish politics and I read that the one independent member of the Scottish Parliament, Margo,
 was also a supporter of independence. It was therefore convenient to see that the banner of Independent was so apt. She was clearly an independent-minded independence supporter and like her husband, the equally formidable Jim Sillars, she did not share the views held by the SNP regarding many aspects of an independent Scotland like the currency and EU membership. She was widely respected across the political classes and she often made her voice heard in parliament as interventions to great effect. In First Minister's questions that usually came as a point of order at the end of the session and the other members would pause to listen. Because of the person she was it was easy to take notice of the issues to which she was drawing our attention. In that regard alone she could be seen as the mother figure of the parliament.


Of course Margo MacDonald will be remembered in recent years as a champion of causes that other politicians were too shy to confront notably assisted dying and the rights of sex workers in Edinburgh. Assisted dying was an important issue to Margo because of her Parkinson's and so she published a Private Members Bill to introduce it in Scotland. On this issue I do lean in favour of assisted dying but still haven't made my mind up as there are issues surrounding the possible consequences of such a law. But it is good nonetheless that members were given a free vote by their parties so they could make up their own mind. All credit to Margo for using the opportunity of Scotland's devolution to hold this debate.

But she won't live to see the outcome of the reintroduction of this bill nor the other thing she had dreamed of seeing her whole political life, the Scottish independence referendum. We can all take inspiration from the manner in which she participated in the debates about Scotland's future. I therefore will share with you a video of Margo alongside three other women in a BBC debate back in June 2012:

I am very saddened that Margo MacDonald has passed away and that she will not be with us to shape the early years of an independent Scotland. She is completely irreplaceable and it will be many years before we see her likes again but in her spirit we can carry out her vision of a socially just and confident nation that will come with Scottish independence.

My thoughts are with her husband Jim, her daughters Zoe and Petra and all of her family at this sad time.

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