We gossiped and put the world to rights together

Margo MacDonald gets to grips with a cardboard cutout of herself during the 2011 election campaign. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Margo MacDonald gets to grips with a cardboard cutout of herself during the 2011 election campaign. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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This is a tough call, writing your memories of Margo as a friend and confidante. We didn’t always agree on every issue but for the most part we did, and while we talked politics a lot as you would expect, we also gossiped and generally put the world to rights.

I was trying to remember when that word “friend” came about and I suppose like many friendships it simply evolved over time. My first clear recollection of her thoughtfulness was right at the start of the parliament in 1999.

I had hurt my foot and was hirpling about the place and it looked like the effort of that historic walk from the original Scottish Parliament (the Court of Session) to our temporary home at the General Assembly building on opening day would be too much.

Up pops Margo, who even then was having difficulty with mobility, offering me a hurl in the taxi she was taking. In the end it wasn’t necessary but it was a mark of the woman that she saw my plight, as she did with so many others, inside and outside this parliament building. Because you have to know Margo is and was part of this large parliament family; not simply the politicians who actually do speak to each other away from debates, but all who live and work here: from chief executive’s office to clerks, to security, to Kirsty at the coffee counter and so the list goes on.

Latterly she would shoot along the Garden Lobby, and I mean “shoot” on that infamous buggy, stopping to have a chat here and there with whoever caught her eye. Sometimes she would lurk outside her door on the ground floor catching folk as they went past for a bit of a gossip or offering unsolicited words of wisdom. She was gregarious and highly competitive. This was most demonstrated in her love of bling – usually from QVC. You’d be passing her door and she would wave you to come in and then with that cheeky smile and mischievous glint in her eye appear from behind the computer screen draped in sparkly, vibrant-coloured stuff and beam at you with a “what do you think?” grin.

Believe you me; no-one could out-bling Margo. If I had strung a set of fairy lights round my neck, she’d have worn two sets. As for QVC, she was the shopping queen. Only recently, listening to other tributes, did I realise that my home was one of the many depots she used for secret deliveries.

And that early kindness grew arms and legs over the years, extending to exchanging Christmas gifts, to holidaying with her and Jim in Portugal where she failed to teach me to swim.

Margo, of course, was an accomplished swimmer and wouldn’t listen to my protestations that Grahames sink like stones in water. Give her her due, she tried, but both of us recognised failure when we saw it, especially as it disappeared below the water.

She loved singing and had a grand voice and so Peter (her office manager, friend and rock) would Google in the song title and we would cluster around the screen belting out old favourites, especially at Christmas. It’s sad to recall how we sang Baby It’s Cold Outside with David McLetchie, much to the embarrassment of the younger MSPs who looked at us the way your children do when you take to the dance floor and try to revive youthful moves.

But we didn’t care. It was fun after work and Margo loved fun, oh and the gossip. Trouble is, this new intake is far too well behaved or at least they’re too canny to be caught. So we were reduced to spotting who was on the latest diet, was it working, should they take Margo’s impromptu advice about hairstyles and make-up? Would they cut the mustard as politicians?

The infamous buggy, which left its mark here and there on the parliament building, had its own stories to tell. Sometimes she took it out to the waiting taxi where the taxi drivers of Edinburgh came into their own with their fondness for Margo, and the considerate way they aided her aboard.

The buggy, thus abandoned, had to be returned to its spot in the lobby for recharging and so various security staff, and Mary, her other member of staff and friend, became necessity part-time chauffeurs. I learned my lesson having fallen face flat with her earlier mobility scooter and declined an invitation to test drive. Not so Colin Keir MSP who, having escorted Margo to her taxi, was obliged to “drive” it back into parly. Trouble was Margo forgot to tell him how to stop the thing and so it came to pass that this ex-Lothian bus driver collided with a parliament door.

Yes, Margo has left her mark on all of us and on a few walls to boot and while the most serious of politicians, a lot of naughtiness and fun has gone with her passing.