“I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round”
The Dixie Chicks familiar lyric boomed out from Margo’s playlist as we entered the Assembly Hall for her Memorial Service – a tongue in cheek reminder that this most engaging of women was also a doughty political operator and a fierce fighter for her many causes.
For someone of my generation, this gathering felt a bit like my life flashing before my eyes. Everybody was familiar, many I knew, and others looked like I should know them. Next to us, is a youth worker from central Edinburgh who’s been supporting vulnerable kids and families as long as I’ve been a teacher, and I first worked with him forty years ago; down there; former Lord Provost Eric Milligan and George Foulkes of the Jambo persuasion, seated just yards away from Rod Petrie, Tom Farmer and the Board of Margo’s beloved Hibs. Jack McConnell, Robin Harper, David Mundell, Jim Wallace, George Reid, Jackie Baillie, Tricia Marwick, Christine Grahame, David and Judy Steel, and, in a very welcome and classy gesture, Alistair Darling, his affection for Margo winning over her description of him as “The Abominable No Man”. In addition, the current party leaders: Alex Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Johann Lamont, Patrick Harvie, Willie Rennie – and with a flash of unaccustomed bling in tribute to Margo, Ruth Davidson.
There were many, many more familiar political faces who have haunted my lifetime. These are people I’ve stuffed envelopes for, driven around Scotland, engaged in arguments about, shouted at, admired, disagreed with, challenged and supported. They’ve brought me happiness, grief, understanding, puzzlement, frustration and inspiration. I’d walk on glass for some of them, and cross the road to avoid others.
The speakers were perfect – Alex Neil all passion and remembrance, Elaine C Smith by turn funny and emotional, ending with a wonderful excerpt from Brian Patten’s “How long does a woman live?”, and Jim Sillars, emotional with pride at his lost love: “The brightest star in Scotland’s political sky”, in turn, funny and impassioned, already shaping Margo’s considerable legacy. His voice was cracking – with grief, possibly, but just as likely as a result of the punishing round of campaign meetings he has pursued in the last few months – Margo witholding her permission for him to miss any events, even in her final illness. Family members Craig and Charlie Reid delivered the finale of ‘Sunshine on Leith’ as if it had been written for Margo – as indeed it could have been.
Yet, here’s a funny thing. Looking down on this chamber, once briefly the Scottish Parliament, and long a central focus of a large part of Scottish opinion, I realised my major emotion was one of pride. Alongside the ordinary folk – who meant so much to Margo and to whom she meant so much, this was the political establishment of Scotland. With very few exceptions, their demeanour was cordial, friendly and familiar. There was no security at the entrances, no particular attempt to paint them as an elite, they knew each other well and some were here despite being greatly opposed to the tenor of many of Margo’s beliefs. It felt like – in paying tribute to Margo, they had all grown a little. It was as if the Edinburgh haar had suddenly and briefly lifted, giving us a glimpse of the possibilities of a post independence Scotland, feuds forgotten, small enough and close enough to the people to see their needs and react to their desires, escaped from the London pursuit of illusory ‘world power status’, and re-focused on the nation, its people and their welfare.
These politicians could do that – of that I’m sure, and they only need the voters to give them permission on September 18th – those fifteen hours, as Jim Sillars said, when we hold a country’s sovereignty in our hands.
“Kind but strong” was repeated time and again in tribute to Margo; the notion that this was our chance to make a difference for ordinary people was central to her beliefs; the need to work together – with each other, and for each other, hung over all her rallying cries.
We heard the story from Govan, on the night before Jim Sillar’s victory there, when he was bidding goodnight to his campaign workers: “Go home to yer beds!” he said to them. “It’s ok for you – I’m going home to a public meeting!”
Today’s memorial was a meeting of Scotland’s public – and its politicians were part of that. I left convinced that Margo’s legacy can be a country which is not just independent, but kind; not just self confident but outward looking; and not just argumentative but inspiring and inspired.
Small enough to care, big enough to make nice.