Winnie Ewing: Former SNP president and Scottish independence trailblazer dies aged 93

One of the leading figures of the Scottish independence movement has died

Tributes have flooded in for the “shining light” of the SNP and “most influential Scottish nationalist of the 20th century”, following the death of SNP icon Winnie Ewing.

Known as Madame Ecosse, Winifred Margaret “Winnie” Ewing is perhaps best known for marking her shock victory in the Hamilton by-election in 1967 with the declaration: “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on."

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The former SNP president, MP, MEP, and MSP died surrounded by family on Wednesday, aged 93, her family announced.

Winnie Ewing arrives in London to take up her seat in the Commons after winning Hamilton for the SNP today in 1967. Picture: Getty ImagesWinnie Ewing arrives in London to take up her seat in the Commons after winning Hamilton for the SNP today in 1967. Picture: Getty Images
Winnie Ewing arrives in London to take up her seat in the Commons after winning Hamilton for the SNP today in 1967. Picture: Getty Images

Humza Yousaf, the SNP leader and First Minister, said he was “heartbroken” at the loss of “a shining light of our party”, as tributes flooded in from senior nationalist figures.

Mrs Ewing led the political breakthrough of the SNP in the 1970s and was a towering figure in the movement.

She also famously opened the first session of the devolved Scottish Parliament with the words: “The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th day of March 1707, is hereby reconvened.”

Two of her children, Annabelle and Fergus, are SNP MSPs, with Mr Ewing previously describing his mother as “superhuman”.

A statement issued on behalf of her family said: “Mrs Ewing, generally considered the most important Scottish politician of her generation, served as an MP, MEP and MSP, and was the first presiding officer of the reconvened Scottish Parliament in 1999.

“She sparked the revival of the SNP’s fortunes, which continue to this day, with her victory in the Hamilton by-election of 1967. Mrs Ewing died on Wednesday aged 93, surrounded by her family.

“She is survived by children Fergus, Annabelle and Terry, and grandchildren Natasha, Ciara, Jamie and Sophie. She also had a deep affection for daughters-in-law, Fiona and Jacqui. She was a loving and devoted wife to Stewart Martin Ewing, who died in 2003, aged 76.

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“It would be appreciated if the family could be accorded privacy at this time.”

The First Minister later paid tribute, saying he was “heartbroken” and that “no words can truly capture the unique and unparalleled contribution” to Scotland Mrs Ewing made.

Mr Yousaf said: “No words can truly capture the unique and unparalleled contribution that Winnie made to Scotland and Scottish politics. Her work over many decades, including in the UK, European and Scottish Parliaments, shaped the modern nation we have today.

“Without Winnie – without her breakthrough by-election victory in Hamilton in 1967, her dedication to the cause of Scottish independence, and her promotion of Scotland’s interests in Europe over many years – the SNP would never have achieved the success we have, and self-government for Scotland would never have become the priority it did.

“Winnie was a pioneer and a patriot, and there were so many aspects to her life and work that I hope will get the recognition they deserve in the days to come.

“Not just the SNP and independence supporters, but people across Scotland will mourn Winnie’s death. The nation will feel her loss, which will, of course, be felt most keenly by her family and many friends all around the world.

“From the bottom of my heart, I say thank you, Madame Écosse, for your service to our party, our movement and our country.”

Nicola Sturgeon, the former first minister and SNP leader, said she was “heartbroken” and the SNP had lost a “beloved icon”.

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She said: “I can’t begin to convey the depth of gratitude I feel for the advice, wisdom, encouragement and inspiration Winnie gave me and so many others over the years. She was a master of the art of campaigning and it was a privilege to learn from her.

“Today, Scotland has lost one of her foremost patriots and champions. Thank you, Madame Ecosse.”

Ms Sturgeon said Mrs Ewing “did more than anyone to internationalise the independence movement and make it the outward-looking force we are today”.

Mrs Ewing was born in Glasgow in 1929 and gained a law degree from Glasgow University, before being elected to the UK Parliament.

Despite losing the Hamilton seat at the next election in 1970, she was re-elected to Westminster in 1974 for Moray and Nairn, defeating the-then Scottish secretary Gordon Campbell in the process. Mrs Ewing would retain her seat in the second election in October of the same year.

The SNP stalwart also served in the European Parliament, representing the Highlands and Islands after losing her Westminster seat in 1979.

She resigned as an MEP in 1999 to stand as a candidate for the new Scottish Parliament, representing the Highlands and Islands until 2003.

In 1987, she became the president of the SNP. Mrs Ewing would hold the role until 2005 when she stood down from elected office, bringing to an end her 38-year career in representative politics. She remained an ardent supporter of the independence cause.

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Alex Salmond, the first SNP leader to be elected first minister, said Mrs Ewing was the “most influential Scottish nationalist of the 20th century”. Paying tribute to her victory in the Hamilton by-election in 1967, he said the win “defined modern Scottish nationalism”.

Mr Salmond said: “This dramatic breakthrough was encompassed in her own phrase ‘Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on’, and with the support of her family she continued to dazzle the Scottish political scene.

"Many politicians adapt to the climate. Few make the political weather. Winnie Ewing was one of those.

“Her influence on Scottish nationalism was fundamental both in giving it star quality, electoral credibility and an internationalist outlook. She is one of the very few politicians who was universally known by her first name.

"Her canvassing approach was legendary, and single handed she could light up the dreichest of high streets and inject energy and momentum into any campaign. As a young politician, I witnessed this extraordinary ability first hand and never forgot the lessons she taught me.

"Above all she was a Scottish patriot, indomitable in her approach and a courageous and loyal colleague. May God rest her brave soul and extend comfort and consolation to Fergus, Annabelle, Terry and all of the family.”

John Swinney, former deputy first minister and leader of the SNP in the early part of devolution, also paid tribute.

He said: “Heartbroken to hear Winnie Ewing has died. She inspired generations who sought Independence and gave everything she could to make it happen. I will never, ever forget her encouragement and her steadfast support.”

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Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader and MP for Moray, the successor constituency to Mrs Ewing’s old Moray and Nairn seat, said his thoughts were with the family.

Flags at Holyrood were also lowered as a “mark of respect” following Ms Ewing’s death.

Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone said: “We will all be deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Winnie Ewing. An inspiring and hugely influential politician, an MSP, an MP and an MEP, and, of course, first person to chair the reconvened Scottish Parliament in 1999.”



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