ALEX Salmond led tributes to the late Margo MacDonald yesterday when MSPs remembered her political talents, her mischievous sense of humour and her courageous battle against illness.
The First Minister led a motion of condolence tabled at the Scottish Parliament, supported by leaders of the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Scottish Conservatives, Greens and the MSPs’ independent group.
Eighteen days after the former SNP deputy leader passed away aged 70, Mr Salmond described her as the “finest parliamentarian” that Holyrood had seen.
He said Ms MacDonald, who latterly sat at Holyrood as an independent, put people before party and ideology, adding that he had “admired her all my adult life”.
“She managed to be influential but also widely loved by politicians and people, but particularly by the people,” Mr Salmond said.
He recalled the speech she made last year on the top of Calton Hill at the conclusion of a march for independence. In it, Ms MacDonald said she hoped the people of Scotland would “pull together regardless of the outcome of the referendum”.
Throughout her life, Ms MacDonald fought for independence and Mr Salmond remembered her triumph for the SNP in the Govan by-election of 1973.
He said: “She held the seat for a mere three months but, arguably, had more influence on real politics than people who sat in Westminster for 30 years.”
He said it was difficult to imagine Holyrood, or indeed Scotland, without Ms MacDonald and said it was somehow fitting that, as an Independent list MSP, she was not being replaced.
“She is quite literally irreplaceable,” the First Minister said, as Ms MacDonald’s husband, the former SNP MP Jim Sillars, along with her daughter, Petra, and her granddaughter, Roseanne, looked on from the public gallery.
Earlier, Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick remembered her love of wearing bright colours, and said that, in tribute, she was wearing a necklace she had been given by Ms MacDonald.
Ms Marwick said: “We know how much Margo loved her jewellery and her bright clothes. If QVC didn’t exist then Margo would have had to invent it.
“I was a disappointment to her as Presiding Officer. She told me often that I just didn’t wear enough jewellery. Margo was determined I should wear more. I was just as determined not to.
“She cajoled me, she nagged me and then, when all that had failed, she gave me a small bag of necklaces. I was still reluctant to wear them. After all, how could anyone out-bling Margo?
“But today, just for Margo, I am wearing my bright clothes and am wearing her necklace.”
Ms Marwick also spoke of the late politician’s battle with Parkinson’s disease.
“The way she coped with her long, painful illness inspired many, including me, and showed what bravery really was,” Ms Marwick said.
Ms MacDonald’s willingness to take on controversial causes was also remembered, particularly her Private Member’s Bill on assisted suicide and her work to help Edinburgh prostitutes.
Ms Marwick said: “She had strong views but it was clear that those views did not in themselves define her – they were an expression of the deeply held values which had shaped her life. Margo was prepared to explore contentious issues, not balk at them.”
But while she was a serious politician, she did not take herself too seriously, Ms Marwick said.
“She delighted in the ordinary, the quick quip, the amusing line. The silliness of life too – her advice on jackets to wear, make-up to buy, bling to acquire. All of that made her all the more endearing, too.”
Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “Margo’s passing leaves this parliament and the political life of this nation a more dull and monochrome place, because she lit it up.”
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “She was trusted and authentic. Margo was able to tread that line between rebellion and credibility.”
Ms MacDonald joined two former SNP members and Holyrood’s two Green MSPs to form a parliamentary group she dubbed the “Grindies”.
Green leader Patrick Harvie said Ms MacDonald was a fantastic source of “juicy” gossip on other politicians.
He told MSPs: “I do hope she wrote a lot of that down because there were secrets in that head that don’t deserve to be lost.”