Independence stalwart and former SNP president Winnie Ewing dies aged 92

Throughout her decades-long career, she was a giant of the SNP and independence movement.

Winnie Ewing, the former SNP president and stalwart of the Scottish independence movement, has died at the age of 92.

The Glaswegian was a towering figure in the party throughout her decades-long career as MP, MSP and MEP.

Known as Madame Ecosse, she was the SNP’s first female member of the House of Commons following her breakthrough election in 1967.

Throughout her life, she held seats in Westminster, Holyrood and Brussels and was the party’s president from 1987 until 2005.

Her daughter Annabelle Ewing and her son Fergus Ewing are both SNP MSPs at Holyrood.

Winnie Ewing was a trailblazing politician, becoming the SNP's first female MP in 1967.Getty Images

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 92, 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.

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

The 1967 by-election breakthrough

Sean Connery at the SNP congress with Winnie Ewing (MEP at the time) and Alex Salmond.Getty Images

Ewing made headlines in 1967 after winning the Westminster Hamilton seat during a by-election against the Labour Party.

Her election was considered a breakthrough and is one of the most famous victories in Scottish political history, marking the rise of the SNP throughout the 1970s.

During her first appearance at Westminster, she famously said, “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on”.

She was greeted at the parliament by a pipe band and 400 independence activists.

She later lost her seat in 1970.

Four years later, she famously beat Scottish secretary Gordon Campbell in the Moray and Nairn consistency, a seat which she held until 1979.

From devolution campaigner to MSP

Winnie Ewing won a breakthrough seat for the SNP in Westminster in 1967.Getty Images

Ewing recalled her most treasured memory as the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

She told the opening session: “I want to begin with the words that I have always wanted either to say, or hear someone else say: ‘The Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on March 25, 1707, is hereby reconvened.’

She joined Holyrood when it opened in 1999, becoming its oldest MSP at the time.

Madame Ecosse

Ewing represented the Highland and Island region as an MEP from 1975 until 1999.

Through her work in Brussels, she became known as Madame Ecosse and the Mother of the European Parliament.

Early life

Before becoming a politician, she joined Glasgow University before becoming a lawyer. She joined the SNP in 1946.

Her son Fergus Ewing and her daughter Annabelle Ewing both followed their mother into politics, sitting as SNP MSPs at Holyrood.

Winnie Ewing is survived by her daughter Annabelle Ewing and her son Fergus Ewing.Getty Images

‘Heartbreak and gratitude’

Tributes have poured in for the late politician, with First Minister Humza Yousaf saying the SNP could not have achieved the success it has without her.

He said: “I am heartbroken that we have lost a shining light of our party. Without Winnie’s trailblazing victory in the 1967 Hamilton by-election & without her dedication to the cause of independence, @theSNP would simply not have achieved the success we have.

“Winnie, more than anyone else, ensured our party was outward looking.

“She promoted Scotland’s interests in Europe over many years. Thank you Madame Écosse for your service to our party & country. My thoughts & prayers with Winnie’s family, especially Fergus, Annabelle & Terry.”

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon – who previously described Ewing as her heroine – labelling her a “beloved icon”.

“Heartbroken by this news,” 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.”

She said Scotland “had lost one of her foremost patriots and champions” and the independence movement “a beloved icon”.

She offered her condolences to her family before saying: “Thank you Madame Ecosse”.

Former first minister Alex Salmond described Ewing as “the most influential Scottish nationalist of the 20th century”.

“Her triumph in the Hamilton by-election of 1967 defined modern Scottish nationalism and started a period of unbroken parliamentary representation which has lasted more than half a century,” he 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.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who is now an MSP for her former constituency, said she was held in high regard by Highland locals.

“Very sad news of the death of Winnie Ewing and my thoughts are with Fergus, Annabelle and Terry and her wider family and friends,” he said.

“Winnie made an immense contribution to politics throughout her life and was held in such high regard locally as the former MP for Moray and Nairn.

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