Winnie Ewing

Winnie Ewing
President of the Scottish National Party
In office
1987  September 2005
Preceded by Donald Stewart
Succeeded by Ian Hudghton
Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Highlands and Islands
In office
6 May 1999  1 May 2003
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Rob Gibson
Member of the European Parliament
for Highlands and Islands
In office
10 June 1979  13 June 1999
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Member of Parliament
for Moray and Nairn
In office
28 February 1974  3 May 1979
Preceded by Gordon Campbell
Succeeded by Alexander Pollock
Member of Parliament
for Hamilton
In office
2 November 1967  18 June 1970
Preceded by Tom Fraser
Succeeded by Alexander Wilson
Personal details
Born Winifred Margaret Woodburn
(1929-07-10) 10 July 1929
Glasgow, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Political party Scottish National Party
Spouse(s) Stewart Martin Ewing (m. 1956–2003)
Children Fergus Ewing
Annabelle Ewing
Alma mater University of Glasgow
Profession Solicitor

Winifred Margaret Ewing (born 10 July 1929) is a Scottish nationalist, lawyer and prominent Scottish National Party (SNP) politician who was a Member of Parliament (Hamilton 1967–70; Moray and Nairn 74–79), Member of the European Parliament (Highlands and Islands 1975–1999) and Member of the Scottish Parliament (Highlands and Islands 1999–2003). Her election victory in 1967 was a significant by-election in Scottish political history and began a surge of support for the SNP.[1][2] She was the SNP Party President from 1987 to 2005.


Born Winifred Margaret Woodburn in Glasgow, she was educated at Battlefield School and Queen's Park Senior Secondary School. In 1946 she matriculated at Glasgow University where she earned an MA and studied for an LLB. Though not very active in politics at that time, she joined the Student Nationalists. After graduation she qualified and practised as a solicitor and notary public. She was Secretary of the Glasgow Bar Association from 1962–67.[3] The University of Glasgow honoured Ewing with an LLD in 1995.

Political biography

She became active in campaigning for Scottish independence through her membership of the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association, and came to prominence in 1967 when she won the watershed Hamilton by-election as the Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate. A practising solicitor at the time of her election, she proved to be a sound choice as her eloquence and ability bolstered a hard-fought SNP campaign and saw her through to victory. She was also helped on to victory by a team of enthusiastic helpers, among them her election agent, John McAteer. She said at the time of her election, 'stop the world, Scotland wants to get on', and her presence at Westminster proved to be a real focus for the SNP with a significant rise in membership being the result. Furthermore, many political commentators speculate that it was as a result of her victory that the then Labour Government established the Kilbrandon Commission to look into the establishment of a devolved Scottish Assembly.

Despite her high profile she was unsuccessful in retaining the Hamilton seat at the 1970 General Election, but she managed to be re-elected to Westminster at the February 1974 Election for Moray and Nairn, and held her seat in the repeat election in October of the same year. She first became an MEP in 1975, at a time when the European Parliament was still composed of representative delegations from national parliaments. She ceased to be a Westminster MP after the May 1979 election, but within weeks had won a seat at the European Parliament in the first direct elections to the Parliament.

She was elected the SNP Party President in 1987.[3]

It was during her time as an MEP that she acquired the nickname Madame Ecosse (French for Mrs Scotland) because of her strong advocacy of Scottish interests in Strasbourg and Brussels.[4][5] The term was meant to be given in jest and used in a disparaging way by her opponents, but Ewing used the term as a badge of pride and it stuck. She had been a former Vice President of the European Radical Alliance which included French, Guyanan, Flemish, Luxembourg, Italian, Corsican and Spanish (Canary Islands) MEPs.

In 1999 she gave up being an MEP and became a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) in the first session of the Scottish Parliament, representing the Highlands and Islands. As the oldest member it was her duty to preside over the opening of the Scottish Parliament, a session she opened with the famous words, 'The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th day of March in the year 1707, is hereby reconvened'.[6]

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 2003 she lost her husband, Stewart Ewing, in a fire accident. 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. The same year she lost her husband she stood down from being an MSP, although she continued to serve as the SNP's President, a position she held for many years.

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.

Her son Fergus Ewing serves as SNP MSP, as did his late wife Margaret Ewing, and her daughter Annabelle Ewing, who was also an MP between 2001 and 2005.[7]

Outside parliament

Ewing is a vice president of equal rights charity Parity.[8]

On April 2009, BBC Alba broadcast a biographical documentary Madame Ecosse,[9] produced by Madmac Productions. It was rebroadcast on BBC Scotland in July to mark her 80th birthday.[10]


Further reading

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Tom Fraser
Member of Parliament for Hamilton
Succeeded by
Alexander Wilson
Preceded by
Gordon Campbell
Member of Parliament for Moray and Nairn
February 19741979
Succeeded by
Alexander Pollock
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
Party political offices
Preceded by
Donald Stewart
President of the Scottish National Party
Succeeded by
Ian Hudghton
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