Winnie Ewing

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Winnie Ewing
President of the Scottish National Party
In office
1987 – September 2005
Preceded byDonald Stewart
Succeeded byIan Hudghton
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Highlands and Islands
(1 of 7 Regional MSPs)
In office
6 May 1999 – 31 March 2003
Member of the European Parliament
for Highlands and Islands
In office
10 June 1979 – 13 June 1999
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Member of Parliament
for Moray and Nairn
In office
28 February 1974 – 7 April 1979
Preceded byGordon Campbell
Succeeded byAlexander Pollock
Member of Parliament
for Hamilton
In office
2 November 1967 – 29 May 1970
Preceded byTom Fraser
Succeeded byAlexander Wilson
Personal details
Winifred Margaret Woodburn

(1929-07-10)10 July 1929
Glasgow, Scotland
Died21 June 2023(2023-06-21) (aged 93)
Bridge of Weir, Scotland
Political partySNP
Stewart Martin Ewing
(m. 1956; died 2003)
Children3, including Fergus and Annabelle
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow

Winifred Margaret Ewing FRSA (née Woodburn; 10 July 1929 – 21 June 2023) was a Scottish politician, lawyer and figure within the independence movement who served as President of the Scottish National Party from 1987 to 2005. Ewing was a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for Highlands and Islands from 1999 to 2003 and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the equivalent seat from 1979 to 1999. She was also a member of the British House of Commons for Hamilton from a 1967 by-election until 1970, and for Moray and Nairn from 1974 to 1979.

Born and raised in Glasgow, Ewing studied law at the University of Glasgow, where she joined the university's Scottish Nationalist Association. After graduating, she worked as a lawyer, serving as Secretary of the Glasgow Bar Association from 1962 to 1967. Ewing was elected to the House of Commons in the 1967 Hamilton by-election and her presence at Westminster led to a rise in membership for the SNP, from her quote; "stop the world, Scotland wants to get on". Although she lost her seat in the 1970 UK election, she was re-elected in February 1974, this time for the Moray and Nairn constituency. Ewing lost her seat in the 1979 election and, after making numerous attempts to seek re-election, she failed to do so.[1]

Ewing was elected to the European Parliament in the 1979 elections, representing the Highlands and Islands. In the parliament, she acquired the nickname Madame Écosse (French for 'Mrs Scotland') because of her advocacy of Scottish interests at Brussels. In 1987, she became the President of the Scottish National Party, succeeding Ian Hudghton. She served as Vice President of the European Radical Alliance and by 1995 had become Britain's longest serving MEP. In the first elections to the Scottish Parliament, she was elected to serve as an MSP for Highlands and Islands. As the oldest qualified member, it was her duty to preside over the opening of the Scottish Parliament.

Early life[edit]

Ewing was born Winifred Margaret Woodburn on 10 July 1929 in Glasgow, to Christina Bell Anderson and George Woodburn, a small business owner.[2][3][4] She was educated at Battlefield School and Queen's Park Secondary School. In 1946 she matriculated at the University of Glasgow where she graduated with an MA and LLB.[2] Although relatively inactive in politics at that time, she joined the Student Nationalists.[5] Following her graduation, she qualified and practised as a solicitor and notary public. She was Secretary of the Glasgow Bar Association from 1962 to 1967.[6]

Political career[edit]

Ewing became active in campaigning for Scottish independence through her membership of the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association, and won the 1967 Hamilton by-election as the Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate.[7][8] She was elected with the help of a team including her election agent, John McAteer. On 16 November, she made her first appearance at Westminster, with her husband and children accompanying her on the journey.[9] She arrived at the parliament in a Scottish-built Hillman Imp and was greeted by a crowd and a pipe band.[10]

Ewing said at the time "stop the world, Scotland wants to get on", and her presence at Westminster led to a rise in membership for the SNP.[5] It was speculated that Ewing's electoral gain led to the establishment of the Kilbrandon Commission by the Labour government of Harold Wilson to look into the viability of a devolved Scottish Assembly. In hindsight it could be said to mark the start of modern politics in Scotland, according to Professor Richard Finlay of Strathclyde University, bringing young people and women from non-political backgrounds into politics for the first time, whilst Labour and Tory party organisation and branch numbers were declining.[11]

Despite her high profile, Ewing was unsuccessful in retaining the Hamilton seat at the 1970 general election.[12] At the following February 1974 election she stood for Moray and Nairn and was returned to Westminster, although another election followed in October of the same year when her already marginal majority declined. Following the October election she was announced as the SNP's spokesperson on external affairs and the EEC.[13] She first became an MEP in 1975, at a time when the European Parliament was still composed of representative delegations from national parliaments.[11] She lost her Westminster seat at the May 1979 election, but within weeks had gained a seat in the European Parliament at the first direct elections to the Parliament. Ewing was unsuccessful at seeking to return to Westminster as the SNP candidate for Orkney and Shetland in 1983, coming third.[14]

Ewing was elected the SNP Party President in 1987.[6] It was during her time as an MEP that she acquired the nickname Madame Écosse (French for 'Mrs Scotland') because of her advocacy of Scottish interests in Strasbourg and Brussels.[15][16] That sobriquet was first used by Le Monde and with Ewing using the term as a badge of pride, it stuck.[17] By 1995 she had become Britain's longest serving MEP.[17] She served as Vice President of the European Radical Alliance,[18] which in addition to the SNP also included French, Belgian, Italian and Spanish MEPs.

In 1999, she did not stand for the European Parliament, instead becoming a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) in the first session of the Scottish Parliament, representing the Highlands and Islands. As the oldest qualified member,[19][20] it was her duty to preside over the opening of the Scottish Parliament,[21] a session she opened with the statement: "The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th day of March in the year 1707, is hereby reconvened".[22] She sat as a member on the European Committee and the Public Petitions Committee.[23]

During the controversy that arose in the early years of the Scottish Parliament surrounding proposals to repeal Clause 28 (a law banning the active promotion of homosexuality in schools), she joined her son Fergus Ewing in abstaining, although her daughter in law Margaret Ewing supported repeal as did the majority of her party's MSPs. In June 2001, having turned 72 years old, she announced that she would retire from Parliament at the end of the session.[24] In January 2003, her husband, Stewart Ewing, died from a heart attack after a fire at their home.[25] He had been active with her in politics for many years, and had himself served as an SNP councillor for the Summerston area in Glasgow, gaining the seat of Dick Dynes, the leader of the Labour Group on Glasgow District Council in 1977, a result described by The Glasgow Herald as "an absolute sensation".[26] Later in 2003 she stood down from being an MSP,[27] although she continued to serve as the SNP's President. On 15 July 2005, she announced she would be stepping down as President of the Scottish National Party at its September Conference, bringing to an end her 38-year career in representative politics.[28]

Nicola Sturgeon said that Ewing had given her "hugely valuable advice" on public speaking, and that Ewing had given her some important advice as a young woman in politics, namely "Stand your ground and believe in yourself" and "a more vibrant, colourful, dynamic, passionate, committed person, you would struggle to meet."[3]

Outside Parliament[edit]

Ewing was a vice president of equal rights charity Parity.[29] In April 2009, BBC Alba broadcast a biographical documentary Madame Ecosse, produced by Madmac Productions.[30] It was rebroadcast on BBC Scotland to mark her 80th birthday.[16] Nicola Sturgeon named Ewing as her Political Hero on BBC News in 2018.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Winnie and Stuart Ewing had three children, two of whom also went on to a career in politics: their son, Fergus Ewing, was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and went on to hold several cabinet posts. Their daughter, Annabelle Ewing, was an MP from 2001 to 2005 and was elected an MSP in 2006.[4] Ewing died at her home in Bridge of Weir on 21 June 2023, at age 93.[5][31]

Awards and honours[edit]

In 1990 she was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.[2] In 2003 the Law Society of Scotland made her an honorary member.[32] She was awarded honorary LLD degrees from the University of Glasgow in 1995 and the University of Aberdeen in 2004.[33] She was awarded Doctor of the University degrees from the Open University in 1993[34] and the University of Stirling in 2012.[35] In 2009, a portrait of her painted by David Donaldson in 1970 was lent to the Scottish Parliament and put on display.[36]


  1. ^ "Biography of Winnie Ewing". University of Glasgow. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "Ewing, Mrs Winifred Margaret, (born 10 July 1929), Member (SNP) Highlands and Islands, Scottish Parliament, 1999–2003", Who's Who, Oxford University Press, 1 December 2007, doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u15320, ISBN 978-0-19-954088-4, retrieved 22 April 2019
  3. ^ a b c Glinka, Elizabeth (23 March 2018). "Political heroes: Sturgeon on Winnie Ewing". Retrieved 22 April 2019.
  4. ^ a b Wilson, Brian (22 June 2023). "Winifred Ewing obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  5. ^ a b c Risen, Clay (6 July 2023). "Winnie Ewing, Who Transformed Scottish Politics, Dies at 93". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 July 2023.
  6. ^ a b "Mother Scotland". The Scotsman. 22 February 2007. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  7. ^ "No M.P. safe except me – Mrs Ewing". The Glasgow Herald. 4 November 1967. p. 1. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  8. ^ "Ewing rekindles memories of the battlefield dispatch". The Herald. 21 September 1999. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  9. ^ "Speakers was warmest welcome for Winnie". The Glasgow Herald. 17 November 1967. p. 1. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  10. ^ "Crowds Greet Mrs Ewing at Westminster". The Glasgow Herald. 17 November 1967. p. 18. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  11. ^ a b Spowart, Nan (3 May 2020). "The Wonder of Winnie (print edition). Winnie Ewing, the woman who helped put the SNP and Scotland on the map (online edition)". The National. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  12. ^ "Mrs Ewing brave in defeat". The Herald. 19 June 1970. p. 1. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  13. ^ Clark, William (15 October 1974). "SNP to press Labour on assembly pledge". The Herald. p. 14. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  14. ^ "Election Results". The Glasgow Herald. 11 June 1983. p. 14. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  15. ^ Donnelly, Brian (23 July 2001). "Madame Ecosse says au revoir to world of politics Winnie Ewing, heroine of the national movement, is to quit and spend more time with her grandchildren". The Herald (Glasgow). Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  16. ^ a b "Mg Alba". Mg Alba. Archived from the original on 12 March 2012. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  17. ^ a b Ritchie, Murray (8 July 1995). "First lady of Europe. Profile Winnie Ewing". The Herald. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  18. ^ "Everything you need to know ahead of Thursday's European elections vote". The Evening Times. 21 May 2019. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  19. ^ Cowan, Edward J.; Finlay, Richard J., eds. (2002). Scottish History: The Power of the Past. Edinburgh University Press. p. 253. ISBN 9780748614196. JSTOR 10.3366/j.ctt1r23k0. sad
  20. ^ "MEETING OF THE PARLIAMENT - Debate". Scottish Parliament. 12 May 1999. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  21. ^ "SNP veteran given historic desk". BBC News. 25 November 2004. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  22. ^ "Ross Lydall: 1967 and all that: is history about to repeat itself?". The Scotsman. 15 April 2009. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  23. ^ "Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) > Winnie Ewing". Scottish Parliament. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  24. ^ "SNP veteran Ewing to retire". BBC News. 22 July 2001.
  25. ^ "Winnie Ewing's husband dies after a fire at their house". The Herald. 7 January 2003. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  26. ^ MacCalman, John (4 May 1977). "Dynes and Lally out in 24 Labour loses". The Glasgow Herald. p. 8. Retrieved 5 September 2022.
  27. ^ "Farewell to the parliament". BBC News. 2 April 2003. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  28. ^ "General Election 2010: 'Madame Ecosse' in Perthshire". Perthshire Advertiser. 30 April 2010. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  29. ^ "Parity – Campaigning for equal rights for UK men and women". Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  30. ^ "Alba > Madame Ecosse". BBC. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  31. ^ "SNP political icon Winnie Ewing dies aged 93". BBC News. 22 June 2023. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  32. ^ "About us > Who we are > Honorary Members". Law Society of Scotland. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  33. ^ "Leading Scottish figures to be honoured by the University of Aberdeen" (Press release). University of Aberdeen. 19 November 2004. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  34. ^ "600 Scots students to receive Open University degrees". The Herald. 1 May 1993. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  35. ^ "Honorary graduates". University of Stirling. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  36. ^ "Ewing portrait marks anniversary". BBC News. 12 May 2009.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Hamilton
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Moray and Nairn
February 19741979
Succeeded by
European Parliament
New constituency Member of the European Parliament for Highlands and Islands
Constituency abolished
Scottish Parliament
New parliament Member of the Scottish Parliament for Highlands and Islands
With: Duncan Hamilton and 5 others
Succeeded by
Rob Gibson, Jim Mather
and 4 others
Party political offices
Preceded by President of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by