MARGO MacDonald has delivered an appeal from beyond the grave, urging both sides in the referendum to keep bitterness and malice out of the debate.
Her husband, Jim Sillars, spelled out her final message as more than 1000 people gathered in the Assembly Hall on The Mound to celebrate the life of the Independent Lothian MSP and 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.
Mr Sillars said that when she knew she was dying Margo had discussed with him her fears about what would happen after the result.
And he called for the referendum to be conducted “the Margo MacDonald way” –debating without malice and not turning opponents into enemies.
He said: “There were times she came home from the Scottish Parliament, expressing concern about what she described as the ‘palpable air of bitter antagonism’ generated in some debates.
“She knew only too well that this nation is divided on the issue of independence.
“We discussed this division, and what these people will do with the sovereignty they hold in those 15 hours between 7am and 10pm on September 18.
“She so desperately wanted us to hold on to it. But, at one minute past 10pm, whatever the result, she wanted those divisions to end, and this nation seek a unity of purpose.
“So, in my final remarks I bring a message from Margo for all engaged in this campaign. There will be harsh statements on both sides. The debate will be fierce. There will be verbal wounds inflicted. But if we conduct ourselves in the run-up to September 18 the Margo MacDonald way, the divisions will be much easier to heal.
“The Margo MacDonald way is to recognise that you are dealing with opponents not enemies, not with ogres but with fellow human beings, with whom you can disagree but must do so without malice – and where the exercise of mutual respect is a civilised corrective to uncivilised abuse, an abuse which, if unchecked by both sides, can so easily mutate into an irreversible corrosive malign influence on the conduct of public life.”
He said Margo had been able to label Alistair Darling “the abominable No man” but still like him. “Margo’s life’s work was a passionate pursuit of Scottish independence. But if she could refuse to sunder friendships with people who fundamentally opposed her on the issue which she spent her life trying to achieve, then so can we all. If she could debate without conceding one iota of principle, but do so without venom, so can we all. If she could respect the right of the other side to their opinions, so can we all. That’s what she wanted me to say.”
First Minister Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign, were in the audience along with leaders of all of Scotland’s political parties.
The proceedings – open for anyone to attend – were conducted by Dr Bob Scott, a humanist celebrant and supporter of Margo’s attempts to legalise assisted suicide.
He spoke of Margo’s “sparkling sense of humour” and her way of putting everyone at their ease. He said the “dignified and determined manner” in which she dealt with medical setbacks spoke eloquently to her inner resolve and true character. “The medical problems she had to overcome would have felled anyone else long ago,” he said.
Mr Sillars said Margo had captivated 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.”
Actress Elaine C Smith said if Scotland ever introduced its own Legion d’honneur, Margo should be one of the first recipients. But she said Margo had not been interested in the title of baubles – “though she did like a sparkling ring or a bracelet” – because her rewards came from the respect, trust and affection she had and still has in people’s hearts.”
And she spoke of the impact Margo’s election as an MP in the 1973 Govan by-election had on women living in a conservative Scotland. “We cannot underestimate the power of Margo MacDonald emerging on to the political scene, especially on young women from a class and a sex that were not represented.” Health Secretary and close political ally Alex Neil also paid tribute, saying the public loved Margo because “she was one of them, not just another politician’s politician”.
He continued: “She also ran her own opinion polls. One of them was the Edinburgh taxi drivers, who were a fountain of political knowledge as well as the source of some of Margo’s best gossip. Another was her hairdresser, Bill’s saloon, which she visited weekly. There she would test the water on who was up and who was down; what was working politically and what wasn’t. Margo understood the mood of the people. She knew instinctively how they would react to different political situations and policies.”
The Proclaimers gave a moving rendition of Sunshine of Leith, the Hibs anthem, and people left to a recording of Sheena Wellington singing A Man’s A Man For A’ That.
‘Red for her politics, green for her team’
THEY came in fluorescent orange outfits, startling green jackets and all the colours of the rainbow.
In keeping with her own fashion preferences, Margo had requested bright colours be worn for the event to celebrate her life.
Leith councillor and dedicated Hibby Gordon Munro wore a red jacket over a green T-shirt with the words People’s Republic of Leith. “Red for her politics, green for her team,” he said. Many of the women had looked out their most colourful clothes. Former presiding officer Sir David Steel was in matching tie and trews. And Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie sported what must be the world’s brightest green jacket.
A selection of Margo’s favourite country music played as people gathered, politicians mingling across the party divides – Alex Salmond and Labour’s Johann Lamont sat next to each other, hostilities on hold for an hour or so – while former MSPs savoured being back in the hall where the Scottish Parliament first met in 1999.
The venue was deliberately chosen to recall those early days of devolution – and perhaps as one last protest from Margo about that costly Holyrood building down the road.