I was described once as feisty and fabulous. I have to admit I loved the description but it felt it was only something I could aspire to. I probably have the feisty part in the bag but fabulous ...I wish.
But today we lost a woman in Scotland who I believe fully fitted the description. Margot MacDonald was an Independent MSP in the Scottish Parliament. So popular with her Edinburgh electorate that even when she left the SNP she was still so popular she won her seat as an Independent. She started as the "blond bombshell" with her election in Govan in the '70s,a photogenic new SNP MP, the like of which Westminster had never seen. I find myself wishing to be a fly on the wall when she arrived. Although that particular career was short, what followed was a high profile, principled and colourful , in its best sense, career.
I first met her when I worked in the third sector and we were setting up the Long Term Conditions Alliance. By then Margot, an MSP, had been open about her own diagnosis with Parkinson's which typically she has faced with courage and pragmatism. I admit to being a bit scared to meet her, a well kent face maybe but no push over. But her natural charm, quick mind and ability to grasp a good campaign meant all fear dissipated and I was under her spell.
She was, as many will testify, completely unbriefable! She trod her own path. She was a shrewd campaigner, knew her brief and wasn't afraid to go for it. Her determination was always admirable- you just hoped she would be on your side.
Her support for women with breast cancer was through the Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign at the time. She was a powerful advocate for improvement in care and treatment. In the run up to the last Scottish elections, when I was Director of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, we held a debate on the issues for people affected by breast cancer. It was an impressive panel, including Nicola Sturgeon, who was then Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Jackie Baillie her labour shadow minister and of course Margot. She was so impressive;she understood the issues, she argued her points, she was respectful to all opinions and kind to colleagues too. An awe inspiring campaigner and decent human being.
It's no coincidence many of the people who paid tributes to her spoke of her big heart and kindness. It's always been my experience of her too. Last time I saw her was in the parliament. She came into what was then the members restaurant, held court, charmed us all and moved on in her motorised wheelchair. I was deeply saddened to see her deterioration but I was awed by ability to light up a room.
I can't say I am a supporter of her bill, I have a natural disquiet when it comes to assisted suicide. As a former nurse I will always argue for better palliative care for all. But it was impossible not to have empathy for her argument, whilst witnessing the very real risk of her approaching the end and losing the light and dignity that burned in her so brightly. I do hope her passing was peaceful.
And there is no doubt her bill has brought the discussion of death and dying from the shadows of the untouchable truth. I welcome that and personally hope it leads to better care and choice for us all when and if we reach that stage for whatever reason.
Perhaps the legacy Margot would have wanted most is the one that we face on September 18 in Scotland. From someone who in the 1970s who would have considered a campaign for an Independent Scotland a completely foreign concept, I find myself now seriously considering that yes vote. She was the first person I was really aware of arguing for independence and I'm sorry she won't be there to place her vote for something she believed in so much. But she has undoubtedly left her legacy not just for advancing the case for an Independent Scotland and many other campaigns for the issues as a society we don't like to confront but as a truly feisty and fabulous woman, may she inspire many more to come.
RIP Margot. You will be missed.