Winnie Ewing, the Scottish politician who revolutionized Scottish politics by championing independence from Britain, passed away at the age of 93 on June 21 at her home in Bridge of Weir, near Glasgow. Her remarkable journey from a political novice to a transformative figure in Scottish politics left an indelible mark on the nation’s history.
In 1967, as a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Ewing pulled off a stunning upset, defeating a seasoned Scottish Labour Party veteran and capturing a parliamentary seat near Glasgow that had been under Labour’s control for half a century. At 38 years old, with a successful law career and three young children, Ewing infused Scotland’s stagnant political landscape with a vision of a revitalized and independent nation.
Dubbed the “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on” politician, Ewing wasted no time in making her presence felt. Her inaugural journey to the British Parliament in London aboard the Tartan Express, accompanied by 250 well-wishers, captured the imagination of the Scottish people. A warm welcome awaited her upon arrival at Euston Station, where crowds and bagpipers playing “Scotland the Brave” heralded her arrival.
While Ewing enjoyed good relations with most of her colleagues, the Labour Party members from Scotland made her time in Parliament arduous. Public insults and their refusal to sit with her in the Westminster cafeteria created a hostile environment. Ewing even claimed to have been stalked for months without revealing the identity of the perpetrator. Reflecting on her experience, she likened it to a daily crucifixion, unprepared for the animosity she faced.
However, Ewing’s impact on Scottish politics was far-reaching. Her influence inspired a generation of young people and women to actively engage in Scottish politics after years of marginalization. Nicola Sturgeon, the former first minister of Scotland, attested to Ewing’s pivotal role in transforming Scottish political history and becoming a trailblazer for women in the field.
Furthermore, Ewing reshaped Scotland’s political landscape, shifting the focus from the traditional left-right divide to the central issue of independence. Over her career, the SNP, once a peripheral party, rose to prominence as the dominant electoral force in Scotland.
Ewing continued her pursuit of independence in 2014 during Scotland’s referendum, tirelessly campaigning alongside her friend and fellow proud Caledonian, Sean Connery. Despite their efforts, the referendum ended with a 55 to 45 percent majority against independence.
Born Winifred Margaret Woodburn on July 10, 1929, in Glasgow, Ewing defied her father’s disapproval, a staunch Labour Party supporter, when she joined the pro-independence Scottish Nationalist Association during her time at the University of Glasgow. She married Stewart Ewing, an accountant, in 1956, who later became her aide and political advisor. Following Stewart’s passing in 2003, Ewing is survived by her sons Terry and Fergus, her daughter Annabelle Ewing, and four grandchildren.
Ewing served in Parliament for a total of eight years, with an initial three-year term and a subsequent five-year term starting in 1974. In 1975, she represented Britain in the European Parliament, earning the nickname “Madame Écosse” for her unwavering dedication to Scottish interests. Over two decades in Strasbourg, she advocated for Scottish fishermen, oil interests, and formed alliances with other European regions seeking self-governance.
Utilizing her position in Strasbourg, Ewing gradually shifted Scottish public opinion towards embracing the European Union, promoting her slogan “Independence in Europe.” In 1987, she assumed the presidency of the Scottish National Party, a position she held until 2005.
In 1997, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to reestablish its Parliament, which had been dissolved after the union with England in 1707. Ewing easily won a seat in the Scottish Parliament and played a significant role in its reconstitution. At its inaugural session in 1999, she presided over the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament, symbolizing a momentous milestone in Scottish history.
In recognition of her contributions, when the Parliament relocated in 2004, Ewing was bestowed with the honor of sitting in the very chair from which she had delivered those historic words.
Winnie Ewing’s legacy is one of pioneering courage and determination. Her journey from political neophyte to respected leader reshaped Scottish politics and elevated the cause of independence to the forefront. Her impact continues to inspire generations, particularly women, to actively engage in Scottish politics and pursue their ideals. The story of Winnie Ewing stands as a testament to the transformative power of perseverance and the enduring quest for self-determination.