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Blog: Margo MacDonald's independence referendum legacy

Margo MacDonald Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Archive/Press

We were told the only tears the late Margo MacDonald MSP wanted at her memorial service, which took place in Edinburgh today, were tears of laughter and joy.

Well, there were tears of laughter and joy as tributes were paid to the former SNP MP and deputy leader turned independent MSP for the Lothians.

But there were tears of sorrow too, particularly at the end when the Proclaimers gave a moving rendition of their song Sunshine on Leith in Margo's honour.

It is, of course the anthem of Hibernian FC which the late MSP supported with a passion but it seemed to be more than that today.

The lyrics are simple, in the best sense of that word. They seemed to apply to Margo, one of the few MSPs known by just her first name.

The Proclaimers sing 'Sunshine on Leith' at Margo MacDonald's memorial service Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

"My tears are drying, my tears are drying

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you"

– The Proclaimers, Sunshine on Leith

But as the tears dry today, it is worth reflecting on what might Margo's legacy be for Scottish politics in this the year of the independence referendum.

In his emotional address to what must have been 800 people at the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall on the Mound Margo's husband, Jim Sillars told some funny stories about his late wife.

Margo - see I am using just her first name as it's all that is needed - had her own way of opinion polling: listening to Edinburgh's taxi drivers and to her hairdressers.

She operated not on Greenwich Mean Time but Margo time. She loved jewellery and never went out without her makeup on.

But it was what Mr Sillars - a former Labour then SNP MP - said was Margo's message to the assembled politicians that resonated.

To the audience which included SNP First Minister Alex Salmond, and Better Together leader Alistair Darling, as well as a large number of 'ordinary' people, Mr Sillars had some powerful words to convey.

He said Margo knew she would not live to the referendum and to see what she, as a lifelong nationalist, hoped would be a 'Yes' vote.

She also knew that the campaign would be fierce and there would be very strongly expressed views.

But Margo had been thinking about what would happen immediately after the polls closed at 10pm on September 18 this year, Mr Sillars said.

Jim Sillars addresses the memorial service for his wife, Margo MacDonald with a cardboard cut of her from an election campaign behind him Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire/Press

At a minute past 10, whatever the result, she wanted those divisions to end and this nation to seek a unity of purpose."

– Jim Sillars, speaking at his wife Margo MacDonald's memorial service

Margo's view was you had opponents in politics, not enemies. They were fellow human beings. You could disagree strongly but do so without malice.

Mr Sillars said Margo could call Mr Darling "the abominable 'No' man' in a debate but continue to like the former Labour Chancellor.

"If she can respect the right of the other side to their opinions, so can you all. That is what she wanted me to say."

– Jim Sillars on Margo MacDonald's view on the independence referendum

Mr Sillars spoke of his wife as "the brightest light in the Scottish political sky" and that her star would continue to shine for a long time yet.

But given how heated and divisive the debate over independence has already become, it is in everyone's interest that the nationalist and unionist politicians brought together to celebrate Margo's life heed her wise words on post-referendum reconciliation.