I heard the news on the car radio and was astonished to hear a gushing tribute to Margo from John Swinney, the finance secretary of the Scottish Government. What a difference a couple of decades make.
Margo was one reason why I became interested in Scottish politics a couple of decades ago. I had recently returned to Scotland but I had followed the independence debate for many years. In England, when Scottish politics and independence were mentioned in conversation Margo’s name was the only one anyone seemed to know.
By the time I became actively involved in the SNP in the 1990s, I naively thought that Margo had been forgiven for branding the party establishment as ‘tartan Tories’, but I was wrong. One day I innocently mentioned Margo’s name in conversation with John Swinney and was told, “Don’t mention that woman’s name again in my presence.” I was astonished by his tone because usually he spoke kindly about everyone - political friend or foe - and asked why. “She makes promises she’ll never be able to keep,” was the curt response. Of course I’m paraphrasing here, but I vividly remember this conversation as it was an important factor towards my departure from party politics.
During my time involved with politics, I listened to Margo speak on a few occasions, although I never had the pleasure of meeting her. She exuded a warmth, honesty and sincerity to her audiences which few politicians possess. Her politics were a little too far left for my own taste, but her unwavering belief in Scottish independence fitted perfectly with my own belief.
Although the SNP expelled her in 2003, if the tributes from the SNP hierarchy are to be believed, they realised she was a greater asset than a liability to the party and in recent years must have regretted not having her ‘inside’ rather than outside but often onside. Margo was too independent-minded to be a party politician and came into her own in recent years. (In case anyone is interested, I too found party politics stifling and decided not to renew my membership in the early 2000s).
A fitting memorial would be a Yes vote in September. Another would be the passing of her assisted dying bill, which Patrick Harvie has vowed to continue, in the Scottish parliament. My hope is that her end was dignified because she fought hard, throughout her own severe, debilitating illness, for each and every one of us to have that right.
Ultimately Margo MacDonald fought, and triumphed, as a party of one. It was perhaps the only party that could ever hold her.
The video is from her speech at the Independent Rally in Edinburgh 2012.