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Winnie Ewing 1929 – 2023

Winnie Ewing whose political career spanned several decades and saw her elected to three Parliaments: House of Commons, European Parliament, and Scottish Parliament has died at the age of 93.

the white rose
Image Credit Rosie Hopkins

First elected as an MP in an iconic By-election in Hamilton in 1967, Winnie Ewing’s words ‘Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on’, went on to inspire generations of SNP members and future politicians.

In 1983 she contested the Orkney and Shetland constituency where she came in third with 3,147 votes (15.4%) which at that time was an increase in the SNP vote of 10.6%. Elected at that election was Jim Wallace, (taking over from Jo Grimond), whose vote dropped by about the same amount as Winnie’s increased, but which was still a whopping 45.9% of votes cast.

Winnie Ewing also represented Orkney when she was in the European Parliament as MEP for the Highlands and Islands which she held from 10 June 1979 to 13 June 1999. She was highly regarded in Europe where she became known as Madame Écosse for always standing up for the interests of the People of Scotland.

In 1999 with the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament Winnie Ewing was elected as the MSP for the Highlands and Islands region. She also, as the most senior member of the parliament, was given the task of opening its first proceedings.

Her speech then was filled with the dignity, humour and respect for the political views of others that she had become known for. The words she spoke then are a salutary reminder for today’s incumbents, many of whom have forgotten the consensual politics the Scottish Parliament was re-established with and the hopes it had for the future.

12th May 1999 Winnie Ewing MSP

We are indebted to the clerks, who have been masters of efficiency throughout this long and difficult day. [Applause.]

profile picture of a smiling Winnie Ewing when she was in her late 70s

I have the opportunity to make a short speech and I want to begin with the words that I have always wanted either to say or to hear someone else say: the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened. [Applause.]

I could not say those words until all members had been sworn and the Parliament really had been convened.

This is an historic day and, after a long time in politics, I am aware that we owe a debt to many who are not here, who did not live to see the promised land. I would like to mention a few people from across the parties: Arthur Donaldson, Robert McIntyre, Alick Buchanan-Smith, Johnny Bannerman, Emrys Hughes, John Mackintosh and John Smith—today is the fifth anniversary of his death. I would also like to mention my colleague Allan Macartney, who so nearly lived to see the day. There are many others, but I have been able to mention only the people who have been my friends. Many people are named in the history books; many are not, but all of them have made this moment in history possible. I give my thanks to every one of them.

As everyone knows, I have been a member of two Parliaments. I spent eight years in the House of Commons and I have spent 23 years in the European Parliament—which does not sound so long if it is said quickly. Until July, I will be the mother of the European Parliament. I hasten to add that I am not the oldest member of that Parliament, although I am the oldest one here, which is very disconcerting—I think they must have made a mistake on my birth certificate.

I have several practical and sincere hopes for the Parliament. The first is that we try to follow the more consensual style of the European Parliament and say goodbye to the badgering and backbiting that one associates with Westminster.

Secondly, in the House of Commons, I found that there was a Speaker’s tradition of being fair to minorities. I am an expert in being a minority—I was alone in the House of Commons for three years and alone in the European Parliament for 19 years—but we are all minorities now, and I hope that the Presiding Officer, whoever that may be, will be fair to each and every one of us.

My next hope is that this Parliament, by its mere existence, will create better relations with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and I believe that to be in the hearts of the peoples of all of those countries.

My last practical hope is that everyone who was born in Scotland, some of whom, like me, could not help it, and everyone who chose Scotland as their country, will live in harmony together, enjoying our cultures but remaining loyal to their own.

In Europe and in the wider world, there is a bank of good will towards Scotland. I was privileged to visit 28 third-world countries as a member of my third world committee. I met many heads of state of struggling countries with problems who asked what was taking the Scots so long. I know that there will be a great deal of good will from all those countries.

I have served on the Lomé assembly, which is made up of the European Parliament plus half of the world. One of our proudest moments was when Lomé came to Inverness and we agreed the declaration of Inverness, which became part of international law. In that declaration, we swept away the last vestiges of apartheid. Thus, we played a constructive role on the international stage, earning the admiration of everyone who attended the assembly, from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

On behalf of my party, I pledge to make this Parliament work. All of us here can make it work— and make it a showpiece of modern democracy. It is no secret that, to members of the Scottish National party, this Parliament is not quite the fulfilment of our dream, but it is a Parliament we can build a dream on. Our dream is for Scotland to be as sovereign as Denmark, Finland or Austria— no more, no less. However, we know that that dream can come true only when there is total consensus among the people of Scotland, and we accept that.

I will end by quoting from the debate of 1707. I have chosen a passage by Lord Belhaven, who was an opponent of the treaty:

“Show me a spurious patriot, a bombastic fire-eater, and I will show you a rascal. Show me a man who loves all countries equally with his own and I will show you a man entirely deficient of a sense of proportion. But show me a man who respects the rights of all nations while ready to defend the rights of his own against them all and I will show you a man who is both a nationalist and an internationalist.”

It was said that 1707 was the end of an auld sang. All of us here can begin to write together a new Scottish song, and I urge all of you to sing it in harmony—fortissimo. [Applause.]

Winnie Ewing died on 21 June 2023, at the age of 93

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