Ian Stewart: Margo’s loss is a loss to Scotland

Margo MacDonald was 'exactly the kind of politician we should have', says Ian Stewart. Picture: Getty
Margo MacDonald was 'exactly the kind of politician we should have', says Ian Stewart. Picture: Getty
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MANY people have a favourite Margo story. I have two. The first is the first time I met her. I had just been appointed editor of the Edinburgh Evening News, and Margo, one of the highest profile and best respected politicians in Scotland, wrote a column for the paper.

In my first week in the job I attended a charity Burns supper that Margo had organised.

As I sat among the hundreds of guests at the black-tie do, Margo addressed the room. To my surprise and alarm, she mentioned me and the paper in very glowing terms as a sponsor (although Margo was absolutely the driving force). She then asked me to stand up for a round of applause.

It was nice – but a little out of the ordinary. It took me weeks to realise why she had done it. She knew I was present, felt she should talk to me, but had no idea of what I looked like. This was her very direct and pragmatic way of finding out. Wily, and typical of her.

The second was on a day out shopping with my (then young) children in Edinburgh.

Margo had decided to stand as an independent candidate for the Scottish Parliament and the paper had backed her. Walking along North Bridge there was an open-top bus passing with a very loud PA system, saying stuff that I was paying no attention to. Suddenly it boomed out “And there’s Ian Stewart, hullo Ian Stewart”. I looked up and there was Margo on the microphone waving down. “Hullo, hullo children.”

They waved back, thinking it was brilliant. Then she added: “He’s the Editor of the Evening News and he’s backing me, he’s asking his readers to vote for me. YOU should vote for me.”

Never missed a trick.

I backed Margo as an MSP because she was exactly the kind of politician we should have. She was intelligent, committed, forthright and passionate. And she did it with wit and that curiously underplayed Scottish charisma, the taking-no-nonsense and not forgetting her personal Scotland.

It wasn’t really about her politics in terms of independence. That was just one facet of the way she cared about her country. We had many conversations and although independence was always there and formed part of them, it is not the parts I remember most. I recall her battle over the setting up of prostitute tolerance zones in Edinburgh because she believed, and she was right, that it was in the best interests of the women on the streets, and also for public health.

It was an unpopular fight, there were no huge votes in it, but she thought it was right and she fought – hard – for it.

The same was true of her battle over assisted suicide. She believed in the humanity of it so she fought for it. Even when she became ill, she never let that interfere with what she wanted to do, what she tried to achieve.

Margo was a woman of integrity, passion and wit, and that earned her universal respect, from politicians and the many others from all walks of life who came into contact with her.

Her loss is a loss to the whole of Scotland.

• Ian Stewart is Editor of The Scotsman.