Alex Neil: Margo ‘was no ordinary politician’

Margo MacDonald: 'She transcended party politics in a way no other politician has done'. Picture: Neil Hanna
Margo MacDonald: 'She transcended party politics in a way no other politician has done'. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE passing of Margo MacDonald marks the end of an era in Scottish politics.

Margo was no ordinary politician; she was a stateswoman in every sense of that word. It’s not just the Scottish Parliament which has suffered a massive loss with her passing. Scotland the nation has lost one of our best.

Margo’s life merits a full biography. Like many working class people of her generation, Margo’s childhood saw great poverty as her mother struggled as a single parent to bring up her three children and try to give them the best chances in life. Her mother succeeded in doing that for all three. In Margo she bequeathed to Scotland one of the bonniest and bravest fighters our nation has ever seen. She fought not for glory but for Scotland. She wanted her country to be the same as every other nation; independent and free to run its own affairs whilst playing its full part in the global economy and the councils of nations.

She was a teacher, politician, journalist, broadcaster, parliamentarian, campaigner, consumer champion, sportswoman, deputy leader of the SNP and much more besides. She packed a lot of life into her 71 years and she made the world a better place, a much better place.

Margo would never have wished to be idealised in death beyond what she was in life. There is no need to do that anyway because her achievements were so many and great. Her victory in the 1973 Govan by-election transformed Scottish politics. Her role in the 1979 devolution referendum was instrumental in securing a majority vote for a Scottish Assembly. Her broadcasting career in Scottish and British television helped many people to right injustices. Her brilliant campaign on the travails of the new Scottish Parliament building led to major improvements and the Fraser Inquiry. Her newspaper columns influenced millions. Her brave campaign on prostitution changed perceptions. Her assisted suicide bill, although controversial, brought that subject to the top of the political agenda.

Margo’s influence on our national life has been second to none over the past forty years. She transcended party politics in a way no other politician has done. When she spoke others listened. And she was never petty. She dealt with the big issues in a big way, bringing decency and style to public life. She was an example to us all.

It’s difficult to imagine Scotland without Margo. As we approach the September referendum her memory, her teaching, her honesty, her ideas and her dedication to the cause will act as an inspiration. Had she been spared enough time, she would have played a huge part in the forthcoming Yes campaign. Her communications skills with ordinary voters would have been a massive asset for the Yes side. Sadly that’s not to be. But her memory should drive us all on to paying her the greatest tribute we ever could, by winning on 18th September. Even Margo’s friends on the No side, of whom there were many, would agree that if anybody deserved to see a Yes victory, Margo did.

• Alex Neil is the Scottish Government’s Health Secretary