Hey everyone On Saturday Scottish politics lost one of its most charismatic figures with the death of the well respected independent MSP for Lothian Margo McDonald. A principled politician admired by opponents of all political persuasion’s she will be sorely missed and Scottish political life will all the duller for her passing.
A woman known for her honest and sometimes forthright opinions Margo McDonald had been active in Scottish political life for over four decades first rising to prominence as what the media would term ‘the blonde bombshell’ who won Govan for the SNP defeating Labour in November 1973 in one of the biggest political upsets in the history of post war Scotland in which The Labour Party were thought to be unbeatable in their West of Scotland heartlands.
The result sent shock waves through the Scottish Labour Party. After all this was a result which was not supposed to happen at least not in the home of Red Clydeside and the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders who had staged a successful sit in demanding and winning the right to work just two years before. However on a cold November night with a spirit of optimism in the hearts of a nation which just two months before had qualified for the following year’s Football World Cup the first time any Scottish team had done so in 16 years it did happen and Scottish politics has been never quite the same since.
This is in the eyes of some people a bold and maybe even outrageous claim but as far as I am concerned there can be no doubting its validity and accuracy. In defeating her Labour opponent Harry Selby Margo had put Scottish Nationalism well and truly on the political map possibly to an even greater extent than Winnie Ewing whose victory at the Hamilton by-election was won when this blogger had only moved in to primary 2 in the Autumn of 1967. This victory, the was the first in which the SNP gained a parliamentary seat at Westminster in post war Scotland and began a continuous representation which has lasted to this day.
Now some may ask and it is a very legitimate question Why I think Margo’s victory to be the seminal of the two? My answer is covered in three basic facts which I think validate the reasoning behind my argument.
(1) it was the second by election win for the SNP thus proving Winnie’s victory was not a one off or fluke and thus establishing the party as the natural home for disenchanted Labour voters wishing to give their party a reminder that the party couldn’t take their votes for granted.
(2) The fact that Margo’s victory was won in Labour’s Glasgow heartlands cannot be underestimated in its significance. This was supposed to be an unbreakable fortress. The fact that Margo had broken fortress Glasgow showed it could be done and that the idea of the Conservatives being the only viable alternative to Labour was now not only ridiculous but more importantly redundant. The rush of the Labour Party to re-hash the tired old line of Willie Ross used in the aftermath of Hamilton by-election branding the SNP as tartan tories was in my dad’s eyes pretty desperate stuff but nonetheless it was churned out with indecent haste. Margo he said, lit a candle of hope for our nation and I have to say that my dad’s words were certainly true in my 12 year old eyes.
(3) Even though Margo lost her seat only three months later in the General Election of February 1974, the party partly due to the climate of optimism and partly due to the discovery of oil in the North Sea were able to build electoral success on the back of having a popular media friendly personality who knew how to communicate the message across to voters who perhaps for the first time were at least open to the idea of an independent Scotland or at least the advancement of the case for Scotland to have a greater say in the running of our own affairs. This can be illustrated by the fact that on the night Margo lost her seat six others took her place and joined the late Donald Stewart elected for the Western Isles at the 1970 General Election and the first SNP MP ever to be elected at a Westminster General Election to bring the party’s representation up to 7 MP’s.
The SNP and Scottish Nationalism were now the elephants in the room. These elephants had the potential to cause a catastrophic calamity to the Labour Party core vote in Scotland and this threat would become even greater at the second General Election of 74 held at the end of October that year which resulted in the election of a minority Labour Government. At this election the party’s representation would increase to 11 MP’s as they gained 30 percent of the vote.
After Labour reasserted its dominance of Scottish politics which only illustrated as my gran said at the time that Scottish voters can be a lot more gullible than either she thought, or is good for them. Margo and others in the SNP including a young Alex Salmond went to form the 79 group in an attempt to steer the party in a more left wing and republican direction. This was to be an ill fated though in my opinion honourable decision and both Margo and our current First Minister were expelled from the party for six months at the 1981 national conference. Yes that’s right Alex Salmond was expelled from the party he now leads and it was the man that Margo married in 1981 Jim Sillars who was responsible for his re-entry to the party arguing that he was future leadership material.
As I said in the last paragraph it was in 1981 that Margo married former Labour MP and now prominent nationalist Jim Sillars her first marriage to Peter McDonald having ended in 1977 With their wedding taking place in the same year as that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer who would become Diana Princess Of Wales, it is perhaps not surprising that their wedding was dubbed the Republican wedding of the year by certain sections of the Scottish press and media.
After her wedding Margo whilst still politically active was not quite as prominent in the political life of the nation as her husband who was one of the leading lights of left wing thinking not just in SNP but beyond it and it was his influence along with that of the late great Stephen Maxwell which inspired me not only to vote for the SNP but to get actively involved with the party and campaign assertively but fairly for the cause of independence a cause I first thought possible when Margo McDonald won the Govan by-election when I was only 12 in that winter of power cuts three day weeks, and the unmistakable voice of Slade belting out what I still believe is the best Christmas number 1 of all time. Margo’s victory was the first time I had ever taken any interest in anything political and I think it was due to the fact there had been a major upset that night.
Talking of major upsets,
it was during the Govan by-election of 1988 when Jim Sillars was standing for the SNP in a seat which we would go on to win for a second time that I would meet Margo McDonald on the campaign trail. Cheerful and pleasant with a warm smile she was the personification of politeness and had a relaxed easy going manner. To me at least it was easy to see why people had voted for her 15 years before her husband would win in a victory now often referred to as Govan mark two.
When the Scottish Parliament albeit a devolved version was reconvened and the long adjournment Margo McDonald was elected to serve her people first as SNP member and then an as an Independent voice after resigning the party whip and this time her political light would shine for a lot longer than the three months afforded to her at the time of her by-election victory. The fact she was still an MSP at the time of her death tells of the esteem in which she was held by the voters. Even on the night on the night of her former party’s landslide victory there was still one thorn in the side of the nationalist thistle and that thorn was Margo McDonald. Margo was as they say woman of independent mind, a woman unafraid to say what she thought no matter what the topic.
This meant I disagreed with her on a number of issues the most noticeable being her support for a law for the legalisation of assisted suicide in certain cases. As a former Disability Diversity and Disability Etiquette trainer I just couldn’t bring myself to support legislation which could potentially be used by people with a lot less scruples than Margo to terminate the lives of a disabled person who had maybe become a burden in the eyes of cold, callous, relatives with corrupt and unkind hearts. For though that would not have been the intentions of an intelligent and principled woman I am sure that people who are in my opinion a menace to disabled or elderly relatives would search high and low to find legal loopholes in any such legislation.
That said however on the list of checks and balances I would say that I would agree with Margo McDonald on more issues than we would differ. Our most important area of agreement being of the need for a fairer more socially just society, the kind of society we can only achieve with an Independent Scotland. Whilst sending my heartfelt condolences to Jim and the family I also make them this pledge. In the time that remains in the run up to this referendum, I will do all I can to honour the memory of Margo and others who have gone before they were given the chance to vote for the cause for which they campaigned for all their lives. I will fight with all that I have and all that I am to bring about the Scotland that Margo fought for and the Scotland we deserve.
It was with sadness I heard of Margo’s death and to be honest I am not sure it has totally sunk in yet. I am sure her loss will be keenly felt across the political spectrum such was her impact upon the life of her nation. Scotland has lost one of her bravest fighters and our parliament will be a loss less colourful for the passing of a woman who lit a candle of hope for a 12 year old when on a cold November night she showed that if you believe in yourself and in your cause there are no limits she was is and will remain a shining light for our nation.
This is a message those of us campaigning for our independence would do well to remember in the coming weeks and months and if we take that message to every street in Scotland we can and will see the nation she fought so hard to build fulfil its destiny and in doing so claim our rightful place in the world sitting at the international table as a full and equal member of the global family and making a valued contribution to that family as we speak for ourselves with our own authentic voice. We have a voice and its a voice which needs and deserves to be heard rather than be silenced by the privileged elites of Westminster. Margo McDonald would want nothing less and neither should the people of our country.
Love And Best Wishes