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Margo MacDonald celebrated at Edinburgh memorial

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  • by TOM PETERKIN
 

MARGO MacDonald’s life was yesterday celebrated in an uplifting ceremony full of colour, music, laughter and the revelation that her dying wish was for Scotland to unite after the referendum.

MARGO MacDonald’s life was yesterday celebrated in an uplifting ceremony full of colour, music, laughter and the revelation that her dying wish was for Scotland to unite after the referendum.

Around 1,000 people paid their respects at an event which captured the life of the charismatic politician, who lost her long battle against illness earlier this month.

Among the highlights of a unique and fitting ceremony was a rendition of Sunshine on Leith by the Proclaimers, one half of whom – Craig Reid – is Ms MacDonald’s son-in-law.

Mourners gathered at the Mound, home of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and where the Scottish parliament met during the early years of devolution, to hear moving tributes to Ms MacDonald from her great friend, the health secretary Alex Neil, the actress Elaine C Smith and husband Jim Sillars.

First Minister Alex Salmond was joined by the leaders of all Scotland’s political parties as they remembered one of the country’s most recognisable public figures, who devoted her life to independence but was respected across the political divide.

The Better Together leader Alistair Darling, members of the Lords, Scotland’s only Conservative MP David Mundell, former first minister Lord McConnell and numerous MSPs and MPs from all parties also made their way to the Mound.

The politicians were joined by people from all walks of life, a reflection of the range of interests, organisations and campaigns in which Ms MacDonald was involved. In homage to her love of colourful clothes and jewellery, her family had urged people to wear something bright. The only tears permitted were ones of joy and laughter.

In a moving eulogy, Mr Sillars said: “Charismatic was an inadequate word for Margo. She was dusted with magic.”

Mr Sillars said that, after his wife launched herself on the political stage by winning the 1973 Govan by-election for the SNP, she had “captivated friends, opponents and the people of Scotland through her intellectual power, radiance, beauty, warmth, humour, humanity, and colossal talent, for the next 41 years”.

Despite his wife’s formidable public persona, Mr Sillars said their ten grandchildren were unaware just how highly regarded she was until they witnessed the “outpouring of public sorrow” that had greeted her death.

Mr Sillars, who also won the Govan seat for the SNP in a famous by-election, disclosed Ms MacDonald had lately become troubled by the divisions in Scottish life evident in the run-up to thereferendum.

She was concerned by the “palpable air of bitter antagonism” generated in some debates at Holyrood.

“Up until her last two days, we discussed the division within this nation, and what it will do with the sovereignty it holds in those 15 hours between 7am and 10pm, on the 18th of September,” Mr Sillars said.

“At one minute past 10pm, it must bring those divisions to an end and, whatever the result, 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 the 18th of September the Margo MacDonald way, the divisions will be much easier to heal.”

He added: “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, which can so easily mutate into an irreversible corrosive, malign influence in the conduct of public life in Scotland.

“If she could refuse to sunder friendships with people who fundamentally opposed her on the issue upon which she spent her life, then so can we all. She could call Alistair Darling the ‘Abominable No Man’, but continue to like him. If she could debate 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.”

Her love of Hibernian Football Club, enthusiasm for buying clothes and jewellery, her habit of gossiping with taxi drivers, poor sense of punctuality and wicked sense of humour were all remembered – as were her political achievements, which saw her become deputy leader of the SNP, win several elections as an independent and take on controversial campaigns to establish prostitution tolerance zones and argue for assisted suicide.

The humanist ceremony ended with the Proclaimers song before people left to a recording of folk singer Sheena Wellington singing Robert Burns’ A Man’s a Man for A’ That.

 

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