4 April 2014

There's no replacing Margo

When my grandmother went to her grave, an SNP symbol beamed out from the cover of her order of service. It was a pleasing touch of the absurd in the kirk, reflecting the dead woman's true religion more accurately than the God and Saviour invoked by the Church of Scotland minister officiating. In life she never had much time for the Christian god, but perished, her belief in Scottish independence undiminished. As we draw closer than ever before to realising these dreams of national independence, these losses sting with an acute sense of injustice.

Today yields up another, with the tragic news of Margo MacDonald's death this afternoon, her work unfinished, the campaign unwon. A Biblical parallel seems apt, recalling Moses who, after his decades and travails in the desert, gave up the ghost on the boundaries of the Promised Land, leaving the Israelites to trek on alone. It just doesn't seem fair.

Tributes are already being written. More will, I'm sure, flow.  In a time where politicians often seem feart to be themselves - cautious cardboard cut-outs or superficially slick, soulless voids - Margo shone, a character, independent, irreverent, quick with the repartee.  

There will be an empty chair in the chamber when Holyrood next reconvenes. Under section 10 of the Scotland Act, it will remain vacant until the next Scottish parliamentary election in 2016. In contrast with constituency MSPs, the devolution legislation provides that where an individual wins a regional seat and steps down or dies, there can be no by-election to replace them. Nor is there a party list from which the next-ranked parliamentarian could be selected. 

This may seem odd, but the purpose of the regional list is to moderate the lack of proportionality generated by the first-past-the-post contests in the constituencies. A by-election would disrupt that proportionality and would have to be region-wide in scope. In its wisdom, Westminster declined to consider that option in setting up the Scottish Parliament, which will now sit on with just 128 members.  There is a certain fitness to that.  It remains to be seen whether any parliamentarian will take up the fallen banner of Margo's much-improved Assisted Suicide Bill, which Holyrood was due to consider this session. I hope so.

In both senses, Margo's premature departure from the stage, before the curtain call, is Lothian's and Scotland's loss.


  1. Apparently Patrick Harvie will take up the ASB, good for him.

    1. Positive news. It is clearly a controversial measure, but the new proposals warrant a respectful second hearing, to my mind.

    2. A fine tribute LPW. I asked her for advice once and she was very helpful indeed. An exceptional human being.

  2. That "empty chair" will be a more potent reminder at this time of her resolute thinking and desire for Independence than any newcomer of whatever political persuasion could offer.