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Celebrating Margo: A unique and remarkable political force

THERE was gridlock on Edinburgh's George IV Bridge yesterday morning, for which there could only be one explanation:

People of all political persuasions and none turned out to to pay joyful tribute to the life of Margo MacDonald.
People of all political persuasions and none turned out to to pay joyful tribute to the life of Margo MacDonald.

everyone was heading to the Kirk's General Assembly Hall on the Mound. The occasion was a celebration of the life of Margo MacDonald, MSP, the kind of woman - to paraphrase Norman MacCaig on Hugh MacDiarmid - who could walk into your mind as if it were a town and she a torchlit procession of one.

To a soundtrack of her favourite country and western music, the unco guid and not so guid of Scottish life gathered in John Knox's backyard. We can only imagine what his reaction would have been had he been told that a "Humanist Celebrant" was in charge of proceedings. But Margo (a surname is surely unnecessary), who died earlier this month aged 70, would have relished any mischief her passing provoked.

Encouraged to wear bright colours, the masses did not disappoint. On the contrary, many appeared to have dressed for a day out on a Bahamian beach or had modelled their outfits on the more imaginative displays at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Sir David Steel, former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, wore tartan trews, which made him look as if he had just walked out of a Raeburn painting. Transport Minister Keith Brown had a Hibs scarf round his neck, a not-too-subtle nod to Margo's love of the Easter Road club. Meanwhile, Kenny MacDonald of BBC Scotland looked as if he'd bought his shirt blind in Primark en route to Ibiza.

Here, then, were all Jock Tamson's bairns. Alex Salmond and his wife Moira sat in the front row alongside Labour's Johann Lamont, Tory leader Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie of the LibDems. Nearby were Alistair Darling, frontman for the Better Together campaign, erstwhile First Minister Jack McConnell and David Mundell, Scotland's sole Tory MP.

Had a disorientated tourist stumbled upon this scene he might have been forgiven for thinking that it was a gathering of some strange but amicable clan. How could he know that normally these people are never happier than when tearing each other to pieces? The night before the massacre of Glencoe sprang to mind.

What united everyone, what they had in common, was love for and admiration of Margo, to whom Alex Neil MSP, actress Elaine C Smith and Jim Sillars, her husband, all paid humorous and heartfelt tribute. "For the last 41 years," said Mr Neil, referring to Margo's famous by-election victory in Govan in 1973, "Margo MacDonald has been the true flower of Scotland." Ms Smith recalled a public meeting on the subject of the forthcoming referendum at which Margo was the main draw.

When it was discovered there were not enough seats for everyone, Margo asked those who had already determined to vote Yes to leave and make room for Don't Know voters; which, apparently, they did. "She did her job and she did it bloody well," added Ms Smith.

Mr Sillars said that on 19 April, 1943, a star was born. Nor did it cease to burn any less brightly thereafter. Margo was inimitable, an intellectual, independent, courageous, a wit, who had the chutzpah to call Mr Darling "the abominable no-man" and still remain on friendly terms with him. Time-keeping, recalled Mr Sillars, was not one of her strong points. Her staff said there were three time zones: Greenwich Mean Time, British Summer Time and Margo Time. What she was never late for, though, was kick-off at Easter Road, where from the moment the whistle blew she was as partisan as anyone. Even when Margo knew she was dying, she was still eager to discuss the referendum and its consequences. In particular, said Mr Sillars, she wanted "the palpable air of bitter antagonism" which she had witnessed during debates at Holyrood to end when the polling booths close at one minute past 10 on September 18.

Then the Proclaimers sang Sunshine on Leith, with the refrain: "You saw it, You claimed it, You touched it, You saved it."

It was quite a moment and quite a tribute to quite a remarkable woman.

If you could bottle it, what it else would its label read but "Chateau Margo"?

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