Leaders: Tributes to Margo | Red faces over flats

Margo MacDonald MSP. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Margo MacDonald MSP. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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IT says almost everything about Margo that, as First Minister Alex Salmond said in his tribute, there was no need to add her surname for people to know who was being talked about.

She was a naturally charismatic personality, and no political party had the breadth or depth to contain her. For that, Scotland should be grateful. Margo enlivened, enriched, and adorned the Scottish Parliament in its first 15 years so much that her passing has left it a greyer, duller, and less able place.

This force of nature, as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie aptly termed her, swept into the public arena with her stunning victory for the SNP over a shell-shocked Labour Party in the Glasgow Govan parliamentary by-election in 1973.

That was just 112 days before a general election was to take her out of politics again. A lesser politician – which means most politicians – would simply have disappeared from view after a mere four months at Westminster, remembered only as a brief interruption into the usual order of things.

But with her “blonde bombshell” tumbling mane of hair crowding out the men in grey suits, and a sharp, earthy quick-witted tongue which lashed back any who tried to muscle back in, she thrust herself forward as a new political force, so projecting the SNP as a new and vocal dynamic which played no small part in its success in getting elected first seven and then 11 MPs in the two 1974 general elections.

She recognised the power of the media, so she did not return to PE teaching, but took to broadcasting. Her directness and the way she could cut through pomposity and reduce complexities to simplicities made her immediately professional. The rapport she built with viewers and listeners, especially on phone-ins, was significant in the early success of Radios Forth and Clyde.

She was gregarious and generous to those close to her or those in trouble she believed deserved a hand, characteristics which manifested themselves in her campaigns as an independent MSP, such as that to help sex workers. She could also be waspishly excoriating of those she considered wrong-headed or who had impugned her and those close to her.

These traits, while endearing to friends and most of those she canvassed for electoral support, were ill-suited to party disciplines. While unswervingly devoted to the nationalist cause of independence, she disagreed with much leadership strategy and tactics, sometimes none too privately, leading to her becoming the independent MSP in the parliament with the most friends.

Margo will be remembered for her campaigns, especially for the rights of the terminally ill to choose to die. Her success was not in winning, but in shaping public opinion on difficult issues that most politicians would run away from at high speed. Margo was a political giant, who needed no shoulders to stand on. We mourn her loss.

Red faces over Red Road

The more dynamiting the Red Road flats in Glasgow as part of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony is discussed, the more absurd the idea sounds. Welcome to Glasgow, and just to celebrate all the world coming here, we’re going to blow the place up, it seems to say.

It will certainly attract attention, a fantastically big bang that will guarantee ten o’clock news slots right round the globe. The message is supposed to be one of regeneration, of a Glasgow not just shrugging off the past, but demolishing it, a rose flourishing out of an urban wilderness.

But that surely only works if people can also see the new arising from the old. In this case, all that would be seen to arise would be a great cloud of dust and huge piles of rubble. And on one tiny point of detail, can the city council guarantee that this noxious fug will not be blown right over Celtic Park, shrouding the ceremony itself?

Even if that does not happen, and the demolition turns out to be surgically clean, this really is not the message that Scotland wants to project. What are we saying? That Scots are good at blowing things up? Great at destruction? Is this just reinforcing that national stereotype for violence? And behaviour that stops short of the rational.

It has already been acknowledged that seeking dramatic and creative opening ceremonies is a part of holding modern international sporting events.

But now there is a petition against the very public demolition which more than 2,000 have already signed up to. If that many people are absolutely opposed, more must think it questionable. There is still time to draw back from what will be an international embarrassment.