Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Joy Morrissey.)
Here we are, just coming up to 4.50 pm on Tuesday afternoon. If I reflect back on the time that our dear friend and colleague Winnie Ewing was in this place, quite often Parliament could be sitting to 2 am, 4 am or even 7 am. If she were here today, I can only begin to think what she would make of it. I am sure my much-missed colleague would be saying, “What a shambles this place is that it cannot conduct its business in a way that allows for timely discharge of events. Doesn’t this show to those of us on the SNP side that Westminster has nothing to say to the people of Scotland? Doesn’t it just suggest that it is about time that Scotland completes its journey to independence?” We do the task that Winnie Ewing set for us: our job was not to come here and to settle down, but to settle up for the people of Scotland.
I am grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the remarkable achievements of Winifred Margaret Ewing. Winnie was elected to this House first for the seat of Hamilton in a by-election in 1967, then for Moray in 1974, when she unseated the then Tory Secretary of State for Scotland. Not only did Winnie serve in this House, but she was elected to the European Parliament as well as to the Scottish Parliament. The fact that she served in three legislatures makes her unique as a Scottish politician.
However, it is not the accomplishment of that electoral record that makes Winnie unique. As our colleague from the 1974 intake, George Reid, said:
“Occasionally, just very occasionally, a person emerges from the murk of daily life with the vision and determination to change things for good, to set the country on a different path. That was Winnie.”
That was Winnie—George was absolutely right about that.
When the Hamilton by-election took place on 2 November 1967, the voters of Hamilton changed the political landscape of Scotland. They changed the history of Scotland. When Winnie emerged from the count that night, she did indeed utter the immortal words:
“Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.”
Winnie lit a spark that night and the fire from that spark has shone brightly ever since.
My right hon. Friend mentions that very famous Hamilton by-election, but there was another, just before Hamilton, that set Scotland on the path: the Glasgow Pollok by-election, in which the SNP candidate was the great George Leslie, who we also lost fairly recently. It goes to show, does it not, that we on these Benches stand on the shoulders of giants?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because he is so right. With our colleagues in Edinburgh delivering government for the people of Scotland in our Parliament, we have the task of completing that journey to independence, but at a time like this it is right that we pay tribute to those who have gone before.
The Scottish National party was formed in 1934 through the merger of two political parties, the National Party of Scotland, formed in 1928, and the Scottish (Self-Government) party. My goodness, to think of some of the people who had the courage to give their lives to shaping Scotland’s future at that point, we do indeed stand on the shoulders of giants. There are so many to mention. We think of John MacCormick, two of whose sons became parliamentarians—Neil MacCormick in the European Parliament, and Iain MacCormick in this place.
We think of giants such as Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, a remarkable individual who was a Member of this House. He was elected as a Liberal in Lanarkshire in 1886—although I believe he never formally took the Liberal Whip—then stood as an independent and then became the first president of the Independent Labour party. Like so many, however, he was on a political journey and became the first president of the Scottish National party. He was also very well known in Argentina as a rancher and an accomplished novelist. I tell that story because of the spark of genius in those who formed the movement at that time, in the likes of Compton Mackenzie.
We talk about by-elections, and I will come on to the 1960s. I remind the very few Conservative politicians who are here that we have until 7.30 pm, so they should stick with us—[Interruption.] Go on, smile. You might learn something.
If the hon. Gentleman would bear with me, there is plenty of time. Let us just settle down.
In thinking about those by-elections in the 1960s, as well as talking about George Leslie, we should also think of the likes of Billy Wolfe in West Lothian in the early 1960s. That journey gathered a sense of momentum, and that momentum really sparked into life with Winnie’s success in Hamilton in 1967. I go back, if I may, to the 1935 Midlothian by-election. My own grandfather and his two brothers became members of the SNP in that period. By-elections have been important for the SNP in fulfilling the promise that it had.
It will be. May I first congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate? He and I spoke earlier. Not many people in this House will know that Winnie Ewing and Dr Paisley were good friends from the European Parliament and had a good relationship. Quite clearly, one was committed to Unionism and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, while the other was committed to independence, but that did not in any way inhibit their relationship.
Although Mrs Ewing and I had very different views on Unionism, I much admired her courage, advocacy, passion and desire for her country. Her nickname in Brussels translated to “Mrs Scotland”—a legacy to be proud of. Her advice of “stand your ground” applies to many of us in politics, myself included. It is a timeless motto not simply for generations of Scots, but for their very proud Ulster Scots cousins in Northern Ireland.
I am so grateful to my hon. Friend, if I may refer to him in that way. People should listen to his wise words.
It is worth reflecting on the fact that those of us on these Benches have a passion and commitment. We want to see Scotland become an independent country, but, as we often say, the debate about our country’s future ought to be one of mutual respect. Of course, we understand that there are other traditions, but we all have a responsibility to extend the hand of friendship, as Winnie Ewing did. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talks about the relationship that she had with the Reverend Ian Paisley. I am aware of that relationship, but she also had one with John Hume. Those in Brussels at that time would often see the three of them in conversation—and, indeed, at more social occasions as well, if I may refer to them in that way.
It is important that, when we talk to people externally, we give the message that we are here in this place to stand up for our constituents—and, in our case, to stand up for our country—but that we have no personal animosity towards those on the other side. Those who served with Winnie, whether in this place in Westminster, or, like some on the SNP Benches, in the Scottish Parliament, knew that she always looked out for new Members or younger Members in particular. In the end, the way in which someone comports themselves is important in that regard. Winnie was a shining light and an example to us all.
Obviously, we are celebrating Winnie as an absolute icon of the Scottish National party and of Scotland, but we need to remember that she was also a woman and a mother. We send the condolences of everyone on these Benches, and of the whole House, to Fergus, Annabelle and Terry.
I am very grateful, because that is important. The sense of grief that they will all be feeling from the loss of their mother will be very different from our experiences. We have fantastic memories of Winnie, as so many of us were lucky to spend time with her. It is right that we reflect on all that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire talks about thinking of Winnie as a woman. Let us quickly reflect on that and think about the circumstances for a woman coming to this House in 1967, when it was not that common. It is not just that a woman came to this House in 1967, but that she came here on her own to represent her constituents as the only SNP politician in this place. Quite frankly, the experiences that she had were utterly disgraceful in the main—the misogyny that she faced. I will pay credit to Harold Wilson, who was a friend of hers, but the experiences that she had in this place were absolutely unspeakable.
When we think about where we are, we think about the Scottish Parliament being re-established in 1999 and the SNP going into Government, and I often reflect on those who have driven our movement. We have spoken about being on the shoulders of giants, but for me, there are two people in particular who we owe an enormous debt of gratitude: one is Winnie, and the other is Margo MacDonald, who won the Govan by-election in 1973. As someone who was a teenager in the 1970s, what drove me into the SNP was the leadership of those two people. By goodness, we are so blessed by the leadership, drive, ambition, intelligence, wit, sophistication and glamour that both those women presented themselves with. What fantastic leaders and role models they were for Scotland!
But not of glamour!
No, certainly not.
My right hon. Friend mentions the wit that we got from Winnie and Margo, and one of the great things about Winnie was that her wicked sense of humour was as often as not turned on herself. If I can give one brief example, when I stood in the 2008 Glenrothes by-election, Winnie did a lot of campaigning, just by going for cups of coffee in places and talking to people. She came into the campaign rooms doubled up with laughter once, because a woman had spotted her and dragged her 12-year-old daughter across the road to meet this legend of Scottish politics. The wee girl said that she knew who Winnie was because she was learning about her in school. Now, Winnie was a lawyer—she should have known that you do not ask a question if you do not know the answer. She said to the wee girl, “You must be doing modern studies, then”, and the wee girl said, “No, history.”
Well, indeed: that is a typical Winnie story. The only thing that I could reflect on beyond that is the description of anyone going for a cup of coffee with Winnie. In all the years and decades that I have known her, I have never known anyone going for a cup of coffee with her—an Irish coffee, perhaps.
Since the issue of by-elections has been mentioned, it is probably worth reflecting that many of us were by-election candidates, including my hon. Friend and myself. I stood in Paisley in 1997.
And winners—from Airdrie more recently. What used to happen was that Winnie Ewing would turn up and assist you for the last few days of the campaign. She was your minder—in my case, she actually replaced Nicola, who had been my minder for most of the campaign. For those who have not experienced it, it really was something to behold, because it was not normal political campaigning, certainly when it got to the evenings. In my case, we did a tour of the pubs of Paisley. As someone who was relatively modest, shy and retiring, it was quite remarkable to see Madame Écosse work the tables, and to be welcomed by everybody and have discussions about political life.
Since we are on the subject and we have time, I remember that on election day, we were in a particular inn in Paisley—Members can probably think of the one I mean. Winnie said, “Let’s get a dram”, and I had to say to her, “Winnie, I’m the candidate”, but I relented and had one. She wanted to buy a second one, and I said, “Come on, not today. I’m the candidate; let’s miss that.” The point of telling that story is the spirit and warmth of the individual. It was an absolute pleasure to spend time in her company. I am glad to say that I became a very good friend to Madame Écosse—to Winnie Ewing. She would come up and spend some time with us in Skye. She was fantastic company.
Well, I recall going to visit her when she was in the Quarriers home in my hon. Friend’s constituency, I believe. I went with a fellow parliamentarian, a colleague of ours from the Scottish Parliament, Colin Campbell. Colin had made the fateful error of phoning the nursing home as we were leaving his house to say that we would be there in a few minutes. The upshot of that was that rather than our going to visit her in the nursing home, there she was at the door with her coat on and her handbag. As we went in, the remark was, “Right, boys, where are we going?” The expectation was that we would be taking her out to a place where we could have some relaxation and entertainment, if I can put it that way.
There are two links to me there. Colin Campbell was my history teacher when I was at school. [Hon. Members: “Not modern studies?”] No, history. I also had the great privilege of Winnie being a constituent of mine when she was in that nursing home. I was the candidate in 2015, and I got the phone call to go and meet Winnie Ewing, which was quite an experience for me, and she was incredibly generous with her time and her advice. However, a week later Winnie was not feeling so good. It was coming up to the election, and her family phoned me to say that Winnie did not have a postal vote. So I had enormous pleasure, on election day, of taking Winnie Ewing’s ballot paper and voting for myself, which was a proud moment and something that will live with me for the rest of my days.
That is a wonderful story, and knowing the woman as I did, I can say to my hon. Friend that nothing would have given Winnie more pride than knowing he had done that.
I remember that 2015 election with some pride in my own interaction with Winnie at that time. Winnie had sent me a video address that I could use in my own election campaign, and it was not short—it was 30 minutes long. [Hon. Members: “The irony!”] Well, I did say that she was my mentor. Some 29 minutes of that 30-minute address was about Europe, so there is a serious point to this. Winnie studied law in Glasgow, but she also went to study in The Hague. She was a Scottish nationalist—from the age of nine—but she was a European and she was an internationalist. She was so proud of what the European Union had meant for Scotland. She was so proud of the role she had played as a parliamentarian and of the friendships that she had developed with her friends not just from these islands, but right across Europe.
There was the role Winnie Ewing played in the Lomé convention, and in bringing it to Inverness, for goodness’ sake. There was the work she did in establishing the Erasmus programme, which was so inspirational in providing opportunities for our young people. It is therefore not surprising that she would often talk about what the European Union had meant. There are a number of us here from the highlands and islands, and my goodness, how we have benefited from objective 1 status, and the person responsible for that was Winnie Ewing. Think about where we are today—we have to go cap in hand to Westminster for levelling-up money and for what are in effect scraps from the table, as opposed to what was there for us as a right when Scotland and the European Community were working together in partnership. The highlands and islands are full of signs for projects that have been financed by Europe, and that is the legacy of Madame Écosse. Michel Barnier was recently on Skye, and he posted a picture of a path that had been funded by the European Union. What a difference between the spirit of generosity we had from the European Union and what we face in this place.
I am very grateful to the modest, shy and retiring gentleman, my right hon. Friend, for giving way. Earlier, he mentioned Compton Mackenzie, and I think it is worth remembering that Compton Mackenzie, who was buried in my native island—he was a founder of the SNP in 1934—was actually an Englishman, which says a lot about the SNP, despite what many would say.
I had the great fortune during the general election of 2001 to get to know Winnie very well. I stayed with her at Goodwill in Miltonduff on several occasions, and I spent many an hour, over a coffee perhaps, with her late husband Stewart, and I look back fondly on that. I remember one time going to the Black Isle show—the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) smiles—and we sat down with some farmers. I was the candidate, and I thought, “This meeting with the farmers at the Black Isle show has to go well”, but Winnie sat down and told them, “Well, if we were independent now, guys, you wouldn’t be suffering the problems with BSE, would you?” I thought that “I told you so” start to it would absolutely torpedo our meeting, but it did not, because Winnie Ewing had style and she had the respect of the people, and it was taken that way. They knew the truth of what she was saying and did not take it badly, and the meeting progressed really well.
Of course, we know that Winnie Ewing has left us not just the great political legacy we are standing on, but her own children, two tremendous Scottish National party MSPs, Fergus Ewing and Annabelle Ewing. We extend our condolences to them as well as to Terry, and to her grandchildren.
Well, not many of us were active in Scottish politics at that time. I was a teenager—let’s be brutal—and in fact, the first election I voted in was that ’79 European election. The general election of 1979 was not our finest hour. It was, if I may say so, a temporary setback for the Scottish National party. We lost some ground and perhaps were not in the best of fettle. In that European election—I remember it well—there were not many expectations that the SNP was going to win any seats in the European Parliament. Indeed, it was forecast that the Liberal Democrats were more likely to take the Highlands and Islands seat. But what a night that was, when Winnie Ewing won the Highlands and Islands for the SNP.
We hear stories about Winnie Ewing’s interaction with the farmers, and the same would have been true if we were talking about fishing people, crofters, those working in the industrial community in Fort William, and so on and so forth. One thing about Winnie was that she worked for her constituents. I remember, when the pulp mill was closing in Fort William, the way that she picked up the phone to every newspaper proprietor up and down the land to try to get business for that pulp and paper mill. The legacy of the work she did, building relationships right across the Highlands and Islands, was that she increased her majority in every election that she fought as a European MP. What a role model she was for us, as someone who believed in our political philosophy, and someone who was ultimately a first-class parliamentarian.
My wife’s family moved into the Hamilton constituency while Winnie was the MP there, and they often talk about the success that she had getting a phone installed for them in the 1960s. Winnie did that casework, and she came to visit them and made sure that she did her job as the local MP.
I say for those on the Government Benches that I am on page 1 of my speech, but I will make some progress over the next while, don’t worry. [Interruption.] I am in my introduction; actually, it is the précis.
Winnie was a trailblazer for those of us who sit on the SNP Benches, but we would do well constantly to remind ourselves of her words from 1974 when, in response to Harold Wilson asking her how she was settling in, she responded:
“I’m not here to settle in. I’m here to settle up”
for Scotland. Let us remind ourselves on these Benches that that is exactly the job that we are expected to do.
When we talk about the memory of those who brought us here, and about what Winnie wanted with Scottish independence, it was not for us, or for past generations that have tilled the soil. It was for those who will follow us and for future generations, so that Scotland can become the country it can be—a prosperous, greener, fairer country that allows our human capital to flourish. That would be an appropriate legacy for Winnie, our dear friend and colleague.
Who was Winnie? She was born and brought up in Glasgow. She attended Glasgow University as well as the Hague Academy of International Law. She was a Scottish nationalist from the young age of nine. A nationalist, but also a European and an internationalist, as I said earlier—perspectives that were to shape much of her political life. Like many who made this journey, she came from a Labour supporting family. Her father George had been a member of the Independent Labour party, and it was only after her father’s death that Winnie learned that he had joined the SNP in July 1967, months before the Hamilton by-election. So many in the Labour party would make that journey towards the SNP—her family made it in the 1970s. It is a pity that no one from the Labour party is here to hear this speech and join the journey that so many in Scotland have already made.
That phrase, “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on”, encapsulates so much of Winnie’s outlook—that desire for Scotland to achieve its potential; to get on and be the best that we could be. There was no better ambassador for Scotland in Europe than Winnie. She had a focused determination to put Scotland on the map at home and internationally. Although she served with distinction, leaving her mark in Westminster and Europe, that opportunity to serve in the Scottish Parliament brought her particular pleasure.
When Winnie was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, it was a culmination of a drive to restore nationhood to Scotland that had driven her since first being elected to Westminster in 1967. It was a journey of 32 years that brought the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament. How fitting it was that Winnie presided over the opening session of the Scottish Parliament, when she proclaimed that
“the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 12 May 1999; c. 5.]
There was that long journey to Scotland establishing a Parliament, and it being opened by the MSP who was so inspirational in driving forward the process of achieving that Parliament was a recognition of the determination and leadership she had shown since that breakthrough in Hamilton in 1967. Scotland had got on.
Winnie was on her own as an MP in her first Parliament, although she was supported by her Plaid Cymru friend, Gwynfor Evans. Those would be challenging times for her, with the open hostility often shown in this place. How different her experiences would be when she returned to this place in 1974 as the Member for Moray and Nairn and ultimately as a member of the SNP’s first 11. In many respects, it was a challenging Parliament. George Reid, sadly now the only surviving member of that group, remarked of a group meeting when Winnie said:
“Look, if we don’t hang together, we’ll hang apart.”
As was often the case with Winnie, it was sage advice, as apt for all of us today as it was then.
After Westminster came Europe, as we have discussed, and the success that Winnie had there. Before she departed Westminster, she happily took up a number of issues. In her maiden speech in 1967, in a debate on the age of majority, she said:
“There are moral and intellectual reasons why it is good sense to make people responsible at the age of 18 if not sooner—and I mean fully responsible in every sense of the word. They are becoming less inclined to follow their parents’ way of thinking and they are more able to earn. They have seen the world on the television screen, and the visual is more compelling than reading. They have a very good understanding of what the world is all about. There is a revival of interest in politics. I am sorry that the Report does not talk about voting at 18, because that is in the minds of everyone who considers this matter, but if we go as far as the Report recommends, then voting at 18 may well be the logical next step.
I am absolutely on the side of youth. I would remind the House that even if we give the vote at 18, the average age at which the first vote is cast is 21, and if we give the vote at 21, then the average age at which it is first cast is 23. Mr. Pitt was a good Prime Minister, so it was said, and he was only 23, so that today presumably he might not even have had a vote and could not have been Prime Minister.”—[Official Report, 20 November 1967; Vol. 754, c. 980.]
I am telling that story because this was a woman who recognised the importance of lowering the voting age at that time in the 1970s. If we then think about our referendum in 2014, the Scottish Parliament legislated to make sure that 16 and 17-year-olds got the vote. I know that Winnie was particularly proud of the fact that our young people—those who were going to be part of Scotland’s story—were given that opportunity.
I will close with some reflections on the referendum day in 2014 and Winnie’s remarks when she was interviewed at her home by Hugh MacDonald—incidentally, he was the son of one of the two men who hoisted her aloft after the Hamilton by-election. Perhaps sensing that our cause would not be won that day, she maintained her optimism that the process of independence was going in only one direction. She said:
“I have never had any doubt that Scotland will be independent. None. This is still hopeful Thursday for the Yes campaign. I am not daft. I know this is on a knife edge, but this cannot be stopped. It is a movement. It is a process.”
My dearly departed friend and colleague was exactly right.
I want to make my closing remarks to my colleagues on the SNP Benches about the responsibility that we have. If we think about what we have endured over the course of the last few years since the financial crisis of 2008, the United Kingdom has been in reverse. We have had a decade of decline in living standards, with our people being held in poverty. Our responsibility is to have the vision, the energy, the drive and the leadership so that we can show people in Scotland that it does not have to be this way.
I will reflect for a moment on a book written by a chap called Anderson at Aberdeen University, in which he graphically shows that Scotland’s population in the United Kingdom on a relative basis has declined in every decade since the 1850s. That is a matter of fact. It is not about blaming anyone else but about what happens within the status quo.
People often talk about the deficit that Scotland has, but an important factor that has to be borne in mind is that that is the deficit within the context of the United Kingdom. In many respects we have missed the opportunity of North sea oil. Where is the legacy of the £350 billion- plus harvested in tax revenues from that resource? It is gone. But, friends, we will not make the same mistake a second time. What Scotland is facing now is an enormous opportunity from green energy, not just in providing energy for us but in providing leadership in the global economy. The Skilling report, which we as a group published last year, demonstrates that Scotland has the potential to increase its green energy output fivefold. Let us think about the opportunities for us if we can capture that supply chain: it is about creating a green industrial future, driving that investment into the Scottish economy, driving up productivity, driving up living standards and delivering the tax receipts that will be necessary to invest in health, education, transport and every other area of social policy in Scotland.
Look at our academic community, look at the excellence and leadership that we have in world-leading universities in Scotland, and think about the opportunity from putting that to work, developing the start-ups and spin-outs of the new industries of the future and not being held back by a United Kingdom that has turned its back on Europe, sent our economy into decline, lost opportunity and struck 4% off our GDP through the foolhardiness of Brexit.
The challenge for us is to say to people, “Yes, there is a better way; there is a way that Winnie Ewing would want us to take.” It is about showing how we would deliver that prosperity, and putting that in the context of the cost of living crisis, where so many of our people are in fuel poverty—my goodness—in a country rich in energy resource. That is the price that we pay for being part of this Union. As we face that election next year, and the opportunity of removing the Tories from power, it is not about removing the Tories in one election; it is about removing the Tories from Scotland for good, because Scotland becomes an independent country. That would be a legacy for Winnie Ewing.
Like the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has just left the Chamber, I come from a different political tradition, but for four years, between 1999 and 2003, I had the privilege and pleasure of serving with Winnie Ewing in the Scottish Parliament. I would like to make a few remarks from a personal angle.
As some Members present know, my parents were small farmers. My father was a small dairy farmer in Easter Ross. In the late ’60s, he and my mother established a small cheese business, which my brother still runs today—enough of the family advert. In the late ’60s, they ventured south of the border and took a stand at the food fair at Olympia. My mum and dad wrote to all the Scottish MPs in this place and asked them to come and visit the stand and taste the cheese. Only one took up the invitation: Winnie Ewing. My parents never forgot that. It meant a huge amount to them.
I did not know Winnie at that stage—I was still at school. Later, my father died, too young. The letter that Winnie wrote to my mother was remarkable. I have it yet; it is a treasured letter that I will never part with, and I trust my children and grandchildren never will either. It meant so much to my mother. This lady transcended party politics. She cut right through to ordinary folk in Scotland. That was a tremendous and rare strength, to which I pay tribute.
In 1999 I appeared, as green as grass, in Holyrood. There was the great lady herself. From the word go she showed nothing but friendship to me. Where my party tended to drink in Deacon Brodie’s, Dr Ewing of Goodwill in Miltonduff rather preferred the Jolly Judge, further up towards the castle. But many were the happy, small refreshments that I had with Winnie Ewing. We enjoyed each other’s company enormously.
I think, too, of the Durness highland games in north-west Sutherland, where Winnie was a regular—and she was very fondly received by the local folk, I can tell you. She was much loved, and they were really charmed that she came to the games as often as she did. Again, it was a great pleasure to have a small dram with Winnie at the games. One evening, in fact, we maybe had one too many, and Winnie decided that I was her favourite Liberal. I was extremely worried because I thought that might totally destroy my career, so I made sure that all copies of the Northern Times that referred to that were suppressed and never came anywhere near here. I took that as a great compliment. It was meant very kindly indeed.
When the word came out that she had left us, I happened to be in north-west Sutherland at the time. People said, “Oh, dash it; she’s away—what a shame.” When people say that kind of thing about someone who has left us, it is meant ever so genuinely. If my parents were alive today, they would be very sad that Winnie is no longer with us. I am very sad that she is no longer with us. As I said, she transcended party politics; she was way above that. It was an enormous privilege to have known her. Her hard-working attitude and sincere approach were something to behold. I mourn her today. We mourn her today.
I would add two things. First, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) referred to her as Madame Écosse. I was the member of my party who once had to go on the telly and explain why she had won such a huge victory in the highlands. It was a testing event for me, but I come from the school of hard knocks. Secondly, I imagine that a great number of people in Europe, including present and former Members of the European Parliament, will mourn her passing. Can there be any greater epitaph? I doubt it.
I am very grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute, on behalf of Plaid Cymru, to the late Winnie Ewing and to send my condolences to the family, particularly Annabelle, who was a very valued Member of this House when I started in 2001. I think she left us in 2005.
Much has already been said about the inspirational contribution Winnie Ewing made to Scottish and European politics. I could add to that, but I just want to note our appreciation in Wales of her contribution, in particular of course her breakthrough election in the Hamilton seat. I was a teenager at the time—you would not think so, being such a young lad—and completely obsessed with politics. Gwynfor Evans had been elected to the Carmarthen seat in 1966, just before Winnie Ewing. We had also had some near misses. As we have some time, and for the interest of the House, I will mention that, in Rhondda West, we came within 1,000 votes of beating the Labour party. They were much more colourful times back then. Our candidate Vic Davies would drive around the valley perched on the back of a big red dragon, which was loaded on to a flatbed lorry, getting his message to the people. It was a complicated message, I have to concede, but he knew how to do it. Then, in Caerphilly, the much missed Phil Williams, who many people here will remember, again came close to beating the Labour candidate.
Perhaps the most interesting one, if I can just go off on a slight tangent and diversion, which would be of interest to Labour Members, were they here, is S. O. Davies, who, in 1970, was the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil. He was allegedly 82 but probably quite a bit older and Labour decided to deselect him, so he decided to stand as an independent. This is a message for the Labour party: he stood as an independent and trounced the very lacklustre trade union official the Labour party had parachuted in. Interestingly, he was then offered the freedom of Merthyr Tydfil but turned it down, saying that the support of the people of Merthyr Tydfil was quite enough for him, thank you very much. They were much more colourful times.
As a young person in 1967 and 1968, the old world seemed to be dying and the new world was being born—not struggling to be born, but being born—before our eyes. As with S. O. Davies, some people from the old world showed us the way a bit. And that is when we had the Hamilton by-election to spur us on. At the time, I do not think one could overestimate the inspirational quality of Winnie Ewing’s victory. Joining Gwynfor Evans, it seemed that the tide was with us. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) said, this place can be very dispiriting. I know how much Gwynfor Evans, as the lone voice of Welsh nationalism, appreciated and welcomed Winnie Ewing’s arrival, which heralded a fruitful partnership between our two parties that has existed ever since.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. Some people around me may be able to see this very interesting picture, which is of Winnie Ewing and Gwynfor Evans together at an advanced age sitting in the sunshine on a bench outside Gwynfor’s house chatting and laughing. I think Winnie was slightly disappointed that the glasses were empty. [Laughter.] There has been a very fruitful partnership between our two parties and that was established a long time ago. May that long continue. True to the path that Winnie Ewing and Gwynfor Evans established over 50 years ago, may we, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said, never forget that we are here not to settle down but to settle up. That is an inspirational statement.
I am now of an age when the old saw, “They don’t make them like that any more” begins to ring true; I tend to think that as well. So may I say about Winnie Ewing sincerely, “Thank you,” but also, “They don’t make them like that any more.”
I could not have failed to take advantage of the opportunity to speak in a debate entitled “Winnie Ewing” and to add just a few recollections of my time with Winnie, because it was a very special time. Indeed, I think that what has come across in the tributes that we have heard over the past couple of weeks is how much people enjoyed and appreciated being in her company. She had that special ability to make people feel not just welcome and glad to be with her, but proud to be with her. Spending time with her was something quite special. I spent a lot of time with her and I want to share a couple of stories about that.
There was one day that I will never forget. I was elected in the same year as my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams), back in 2001. One of the proudest moments of my life occurred when I was making my maiden speech, from roughly where I am standing now, because over in that Box, the Under-Gallery, sat Winnie Ewing. I kept glancing over to her, and she kept giving me that encouraging smile that I am sure everyone remembers. However, as you probably suspect, Mr Deputy Speaker, she was not there just to hear my eloquence. Her daughter Annabelle was to make her maiden speech the next day, but Winnie was determined to come along and hear all the other new Members of Parliament make their maiden speeches. That is the sort of person she was: she was here to give us solid support and encouragement.
I remember going down to the Strangers Bar with Winnie, as we would inevitably end up doing. On the Terrace, she said, “Your speech was quite good, Pete—the content was quite good—but you are going to have to learn to speak a bit more slowly, and you are going to have to wear better suits.” I leave it to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to decide whether I met the standards that were set by Winnie Ewing.
In 2001, the year I was elected, Winnie was a serving Member of the Scottish Parliament. She regularly came up to Perthshire and to Angus, the seat I was contesting at that point. It was always Winnie people wanted to speak to. I had thought myself to be a reasonably exotic candidate, coming from a rock music background, but she was the real rock star: it was Winnie people wanted to speak to on the doorsteps, and she always had time to speak to everybody. I also remember the 2005 campaign, because I ran it, and Winnie was there for all the new candidates. I recall her being particularly thrilled that my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) was a candidate and had a real prospect of winning the seat. Winnie was so proud and pleased about his victory—although I do not know about the rest of us!—because she thought it very special for him to win back the Western Isles after her good friend Donnie Stewart had held it for such a long time. I knew how much she appreciated my hon. Friend’s election.
There is one other thing about Winnie Ewing, and I am going to try to set this right over the next couple of weeks. Winnie was a fantastic singer, and I had the pleasure of recording her for a CD that I was commissioned to make as vice-convener for fundraising for the party back in the 1990s. Rather foolishly, I decided that I would record a few of the personalities in the Scottish National party—with mixed results, it must be said, but one performance stood out, and that was Winnie’s. I remember her wandering into the recording studio like a rock star, straight to the mike, for the first take of “Will Ye No’ Come Back Again?”, the great poem by Lady Nairne, and she sang it so beautifully. I found a version of the CD which I will share with my colleagues, and I will make sure it is put online. That is a thing that Winnie was always able to do: to give a song, to take part, and to be prepared to do everything else.
I have not been on the SNP’s national executive committee for some years, but Winnie and I ran the election committee that was responsible for vetting candidates for the Scottish Parliament. I will spare his blushes, but someone we vetted is in the vicinity of the Chamber today, and we had a long conversation about his suitability. I think that Winnie won the day, and he is now our Minister for independence in the Scottish Parliament. We had such a great time on that panel. Winnie, Fiona Hyslop and I were given responsibility for vetting candidates, and I think we got most of them right, but we definitely got that one right.
There are so many great memories; there were so many fantastic times with Winnie. She lit up a room. She was a great friend. She was a mentor and a total and utter inspiration for all of us in the Scottish National party. I am so proud and pleased that I spent some of my parliamentary time as a colleague of Winnie, albeit in different Parliaments, and that I had that time to get to know her and to call her a friend in what we were doing. She will always be a massive figure in this party. I know that everybody says we will not see her like again, but we will not. It is hard to believe that somebody of her stature will emerge in the theatre of Scottish politics for a long time.
I know how much my colleagues are hurting and grieving the loss of Winnie Ewing and I know that this parting has been hard, but what a life. What a contribution. What a legend Winnie Ewing is, and we will miss her dearly.
I welcome the opportunity to pay tribute to Winnie Ewing in this House today. I want to start by thanking the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) for securing the debate, and I also want to express my deepest sympathy to Winnie’s family, particularly Fergus Ewing MSP and Annabelle Ewing MSP, alongside whom I worked during my time as a member of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
Although our politics could not be more different, I recognise the enormous contribution that Winnie Ewing made to public life in Scotland. The excellent contributions we have heard this evening from Members on both sides of the House are testament to her extraordinary life of public service. Her place in the history of Scottish politics, going back nearly six decades, is secure and very well deserved.
As others have already noted, Winnie Ewing served twice as a Member of Parliament: for Hamilton, after her famous by-election victory in 1967 until 1970, and for Moray and Nairn between 1974 and 1979. She was also a member of the European Parliament for two decades from 1979, earning her unofficial title as Madame Écosse. From 1999 to 2003, she served as a member of the Scottish Parliament. As we have heard already, her words at the opening of the new Parliament have gone down in Scottish history. It is truly a remarkable record of service, with more than 30 years in total as an elected politician. As Members have highlighted, Winnie Ewing was also a dedicated servant to her party as president of the SNP for 18 years from 1987.
I thank the Minister for giving way and for his very generous opening remarks. It is also worth putting on the record that Winnie’s late husband Stewart was a councillor in the Summerston area of Glasgow, which I currently represent in this place. Winnie, her husband and her children have between them represented Scotland and the people of Scotland at every conceivable level, which really is a tremendous legacy. I echo the condolences paid to all those who survive her and her family.
I am grateful for that point. I think it is fair to say that the family are a bit of a dynasty in Scottish politics.
All those dates of her terms in office and the various Parliaments tell only a fraction of the Winnie Ewing story. We have been reminded very clearly this evening how she approached politics with intelligence, warmth and wit.
I want to pick up on a couple of points made in the debate. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) made a very important point that Winnie’s family are grieving and we should not forget that. A number of Members spoke of Winnie’s humour and wit, and we heard about her passion for Europe. Personal family memories were shared by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), as well as memories of the friendship that Winnie offered and, clearly, very fond memories of the Jolly Judge pub in Edinburgh at the top of the Royal Mile, which is one of my favourite pubs as well.
The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) pay tribute from a Welsh perspective and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) spoke of memories of Winnie during his maiden speech as well as her various contributions to the SNP campaigning machine.
Winnie Ewing brought a winning combination of charisma and commitment to everything she did throughout her long and distinguished career. Members have reflected on her by-election victory in Hamilton and what that meant to her party and the constitutional ambitions of the Scottish National party to break up the United Kingdom. As I said, our political views on such matters were and remain very different, but I think we can all agree on the huge significance, back in 1967, of the arrival at Westminster of a young and dynamic Scotswoman. Her driving up in a Scottish-built Hillman Imp to the sound of bagpipes set the tone. She was here to make an impact, and there is no doubt that is what she did.
There is no doubt that Winnie Ewing was a trailblazer and a strong role model whose high profile made it easier for other women on all sides to follow in her footsteps. Parliament is a much better place today for the example she set more than half a century ago.
Winnie Ewing was an inspiration to many, and her voice was truly unique. Since her passing was announced last week, we have heard numerous tributes in news reports and obituaries, in speeches at Holyrood and now here today. We have heard many warm and fitting words from across Parliament to remember Winnie and to celebrate her life. I hope Fergus and Annabelle Ewing and her whole family will take comfort from that.