Margo. No need for a surname. For the past 40 years, whenever the name Margo has been mentioned in Scotland everyone knew who you were talking about.
That’s the measure of Margo and her huge contribution not just to Scottish politics but to the life of the nation.
I’ve had the privilege and the pleasure to have been a friend of Margo’s since I got to know her after her famous Govan by-election victory in 1973, a victory that helped reshape Scottish politics and provided the platform for the SNP breakthrough in the two general elections which followed in 1974.
The press immediately dubbed her the “Blonde Bombshell”. But it would be a mistake to regard that description as purely a reference to her appearance. It was also a comment on her huge talent and ability coupled with her massively warm and charming personality. Margo radiated Scottish politics and she did it with a panache and a style which was unsurpassed.
The Govan victory made Margo as much a national figure on the British stage as it did in Scotland. She could and did play in the premier league of British politics, besting the best that British political parties had to offer.
She was a sensation. She helped give back self-confidence to Scots and pride in their own country and in themselves.
But she was also a very nice person. Although toughened up by her working class upbringing in Lanarkshire, when poverty was never a stranger for her and her brother and sister, Margo was the best of friends. She was totally loyal to the people she liked and loved. She was full of fun. For example, when doing a sound test for television she would often jokingly describe her self as the “Independent Troublemaker”.
She loved a wee glass of prosecco and a good gossip. She loved the company of young people, as her devoted grandchildren will testify.
She was also a very loving mother to Zoe and Petra, who were and are her pride and joy. And life became complete when she met the love of her life, Jim Sillars; who nursed her so loyally and lovingly until the very end.
In politics Margo was never sectarian. She got on well with members of other parties. Although she was the SNP MP for Govan, Labour’s Willie Ross took an immediate shine to her and took time to help her grapple with the intricacies of parliamentary Bills. Indeed, Willie’s daughter, Fiona, has been a long-standing and loving friend of Margo’s for many years.
In her 15 years as an MSP at Holyrood Margo had many friends in all parties, including some of the newer members she befriended. She was always keen to pass on the benefits of her own experience and help the newcomers, just as Willie Ross had helped her.
One of the striking features of Margo is that she never forgot her roots. I remember when I was sponsoring the Abolition of Warrant Sales Bill along with John McAllion and Tommy Sheridan, Margo told me she couldn’t sit through let alone speak in the debate because it brought back so many dreadful memories of what her own mother had to endure while struggling as a single parent to rear her three children.
Nobody will ever know about all the good deeds Margo did to help others cope with hardship or the work she has put in over the years to help her fellow human beings cope with adversity. She never tried to make political capital out of helping others, she just got on with it
She was also one of the most courageous and determined people I’ve ever met. It took real guts to stand as an Independent in the 2003 election, not knowing what would happen when up against the powerful party machines in Edinburgh and the Lothians.
But she did it and she triumphed. As Alex Salmond said at the start of this parliament in 2011, Margo’s achievement in winning election three times as an Independent was a massive personal achievement and one very few, if any, other politicians could have matched. Also her campaigns on prostitution and assisted suicide took real guts which most other politicians would have shied away from.
Margo had a huge intellect. She could get to the nub of an argument whilst always understanding and appreciating, even if not agreeing with, the alternative point of view. She could also explain her position in a way the public always understood, even when they didn’t agree with her.
She was often described as a “firebrand”. That should be seen as a compliment. It didn’t mean she was irrational; she was quite the opposite. It meant she felt her politics; she was in today’s parlance a conviction politician. She was driven by her desire to see a fairer, more just society – not just in Scotland but globally.
Margo was and will remain a heroine of the nationalist cause. What a great pity she has been robbed of the chance to see what happens on September 18 this year.
No matter what the result is the fact that Scottish independence is on the agenda in no small part due to Margo. We’ll never see her likes again.
A PROUD PROVOST OF LEITH
By Gordon Munro
Many fine words will be said about Margo, but not many will know that she also served as Provost of Leith.
The Leith Festival made her Provost of Leith for our Gala Day in 2009 and 2010. She was very popular. My memory of her is going down in the “Provost’s car” – in reality local publican Marshall Bain’s Bentley – which he insisted on driving himself as he admired Margo. A grandmother at one household we passed shouted “Look it’s Margo MacDonald!” Quick as a flash she shouted back “Naw it’s no, it’s Claudia Schiffer!”
Leith loved Margo which is why she was a unanimous and popular choice as our Provost for Leith Festival Gala Day. Margo enjoyed serving Leith and Leith enjoyed the glamour, charm and gallousness she brought to her post. She wore her robes and chain of office with pride as Leith recognised one of their own.