SCOTLAND lost a special person last week.

The tributes that have been paid to Margo MacDonald, from across the political spectrum and from people with no connection to politics at all, speak volumes about the respect and admiration that so many had for her - as does the fact that, even though she was its MP for just three months some 40 years ago, she is remembered with genuine fondness in Govan.

Margo was an institution in Scottish politics. She was deeply political and principled and never hesitated to speak up for what she believed in.

Her commitment to Scottish independence is well known and was unshakeable - the fact that her death comes just a few months before the referendum that may see her lifelong dream realised makes it all the more poignant.

However, she will also be remembered for the more difficult and controversial causes that she championed, from tolerance zones for prostitutes to the hugely difficult - and for her, deeply personal - issue of assisted dying.

One of Margo's great strengths as a politician was that she never stopped to weigh up her choices of cause to espouse in terms of how many votes they might win her. She spoke from conviction and from the heart.

In fact, the more controversial the cause and the more vulnerable those affected by it were, the more likely it was that Margo would take it up.

IIT'S no secret that Margo had a difficult relationship with the SNP at times over the years, leaving the party twice.

The last time that the SNP and Margo parted company was in 2003, when she decided to stand as an independent candidate in that year's election.

The fact that she was so resoundingly elected then - and in the two subsequent elections - is a tribute to her personality and to the genuine affection that the public had for her.

But for all these past difficulties, it was also the case - and it pleases me to say this - that by the time of her death, Margo and the SNP were on good terms.

Speaking personally, there are many people in Scottish politics who were much closer to Margo than I was. But I was genuinely privileged, in the last few weeks of her life, to have several conversations with her.

She would call me up from home to give me her thoughts and advice on the referendum campaign. Despite her physical frailty, her mind was as sharp as ever and I'll carry her words of wisdom with me throughout the campaign.

Margo and I had two key things in common - representing Govan and being deputy leader of the SNP. In what turned out to be the last conversation I had with her, as well as discussing referendum tactics, we shared some anecdotes about Govan and had a good laugh.

I will treasure the memory of that conversation forever.

Scotland will miss Margo MacDonald and so will I. My thoughts are with Jim and their family.