HUNDREDS of people packed the Assembly Hall on The Mound today to celebrate the life of Independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald.
Politicians and campaigners from across the spectrum joined family, friends and members of the public in paying tribute to the veteran nationalist who died earlier this month, aged 70.
They heard her described as “the flower of Scotland” with “a heart as big as Arthur’s seat” whose death would leave a huge hole in the nation.
Selections of Margo’s favourite country music played as people arrived. Powerful and heartfelt tributes were loudly applauded, and the Proclaimers sang Sunshine on Leith.
Margo’s husband Jim Sillars told the gathering she had captivated friends, opponents and the people of Scotland through her intellectual power, radiance, beauty, warmth, humour, humanity, and colossal talent.
He said: “Charismatic is an inadequate word for Margo. She was dusted with magic.
“She was a force of nature; a powerful force for good, and a superb example of a willingness for personal sacrifice in order to perform public service, with both physical and moral bravery.”
Mr Sillars spoke of Margo’s early experience of poverty.
“She was not born lucky. Her young years were steeped in the anxieties that can afflict a one-parent family, like living in a caravan and experiencing the humiliation that goes with poverty.
“The strength of character of her mother, Margo’s own and that of her sister Anne and brother David, saw them escape.
“But that experience informed Margo’s outlook on life and people. She never fell into the trap as others have done in believing that if she escaped there was no reason why others could not do the same.
“She knew the crushing power of poverty on the human mind, body and soul. The determination to help people whose lives were scarred by it, was a driving force throughout her life.
“Margo, whose heart was as big as Arthur’s Seat, really cared about people, not in the abstract as I have known some left intellectuals do in my time, but as people.”
He said the reason people voted for Margo was not that they always agreed with her. “It was because they knew that what they saw was what was there, not a spin doctor’s creation. What she thought was what she said. Honest. A huge reservoir of common sense. Playing to the gallery was beneath her.”
Actress Elaine C Smith said if Scotland ever introduced its own Legion d’Honeur, Margo should be one of the first recipients. But she said Margo had not been interested in title of baubles - “though she did like a sparkling ring or a bracelet” - because he rewards came from the respect, trust and affection she had and still has in people’s hearts.”
She spoke of the impact Margo’s election to parliament in the 1973 Govan by-election had had on women living in a conservative Scotland.
“We cannot underestimate the power of Margo MacDonald emerging onto the political scene, especially on young women from a class and a sex that was not represented.”
Health Secretary Alex Neil, a long-standing friend and political ally, said the huge turnout, including people from the worlds of the arts, entertainment and broadcasting, was testimony to Margo’s impact not just on politics but on society.
He said: “Margo had that rare combination of huge intellectual ability coupled with an outgoing, fun-loving and sporty aptitude for life. She was, in every sense, a people person.
“She could debate with the best of them at the highest level and easily win the argument.
“But she never lost her practical working class approach to life. It wasn’t a fit-on for the masses. Margo was always just Margo, the same person in private as she was in public.”
He said the public loved Margo because she was “one of them” not just another politician. “Margo understood the mood of the people. She had that rare gift of political nous, which never deserted her.”
And Mr Neil said she had used her knowledge to good effect. “Every First Minister from Donald Dewar through to Alex Salmond had the benefit of Margo’s insight and they all genuinely appreciated it.
“She didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear but what she thought they needed to hear.
“Margo was larger than life. Her death leaves a huge hole not just in the Scottish Parliament but in the nation.
“It is especially sad that she has been denied the chance to put her own stamp on the referendum campaign.”
Mr Neil concluded: “For the last 41 years Margo Macdonald has been the Flower of Scotland.
“For me she has been my good and loyal friend. I will miss her very much. So will the people of Scotland.”