Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Thursday, September 7, 2023
Agenda: General Question Time, Anniversary of the Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, First Minister’s Question Time, Alcohol Services, Motion of Condolence, Portfolio Question Time, Professor Sam Eljamel (Update), Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete, Programme for Government 2023-24 (Opportunity), Business Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- Anniversary of the Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Alcohol Services
- Motion of Condolence
- Portfolio Question Time
- Professor Sam Eljamel (Update)
- Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete
- Programme for Government 2023-24 (Opportunity)
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
Motion of Condolence
The next item of business is consideration of a motion of condolence, in the name of Humza Yousaf, in tribute to Winnie Ewing—an inspiring and hugely influential politician. An MSP, MP and MEP, she was also, of course, the first person to chair the reconvened Scottish Parliament in 1999. The flags outside the Parliament are lowered today as a mark of respect.
I call the First Minister to speak to and to move motion S6M-10350.14:01
It is with great sadness that I move the motion of condolence in my name, paying tribute to Winnie Ewing. I cannot pretend that my speech—or, I suspect, any of the speeches today—will do full justice to such a remarkable and unique life.
Born in 1929 into a Scotland, and a world, that were very different from our own, Winifred Margaret Ewing was brought up in Glasgow. She became active in politics while studying law at the University of Glasgow, joining the student nationalist association—which a few of us are familiar with. It was there that she met one Ian Hamilton, who asked her whether she would like to be part of an infamous trip down to Westminster abbey to repatriate the stone of destiny. The only thing that prevented Winnie Ewing from making that journey was that she did not have a driver’s licence, and Ian Hamilton needed a driver. In the life of a trailblazer who achieved so much, it might be fair to say that that was the only stone that she left unturned.
Even at that point in Winnie’s life, she was clearly destined to be a trailblazer. For a woman, in those less equal days, a high-profile career in law was something of a rarity. And a career in politics? Forget about it. It was unheard of for a woman—particularly for a woman of the nationalist persuasion. During the 1950s and 1960s, Winnie’s legal career began to flourish. At that time, she met her beloved husband, Stewart, and they would go on to have three children.
Winnie was studying for the English bar when a by-election was declared in the constituency of Hamilton. As we all know only too well, by-elections are remembered and have a national impact only when the result is an upset—which would be something of an understatement when it came to Winnie Ewing’s incredible victory in 1967. Not to overstate it, I say that it was seismic. Professor James Mitchell best summed up its profound significance when he wrote:
“After Hamilton, politics in Scotland would be viewed through a Scottish lens by all parties seeking support north of the border”.
Although she failed to hold on to her Hamilton seat in 1970, Winnie was elected again in 1974 to serve the people of Moray. Shortly afterwards, she began her long career as a member of the European Parliament. She secured some spectacular successes for the Highland communities that she represented. She helped to secure objective 1 assistance for the whole of the Highlands and Islands in 1989, which opened up major resources for infrastructure and employment projects.
Winnie was clearly motivated by her desire for Scottish independence, but she was also involved in major international issues of the day. Her infamous declaration, “Stop the world—Scotland wants to get on”, has been quoted countless times, but the context in which she said it is often forgotten. At a time when Scotland had no national Parliament and little international personality, Winnie worked tirelessly to foster understanding of Scotland and good will for our nation, as a friend of a range of prominent European and international figures. Those figures included the likes of Jacques Chirac and Golda Meir, as well as politicians from across the island of Ireland, including John Hume, Ian Paisley and Éamon de Valera, whose funeral she attended by hiring a small plane at her own expense.
As a member of the European Parliament, she was also elected as a parliamentary delegate to the Lomé convention, which was a trade-and-aid agreement between European, African, Caribbean and Pacific nations. That opened the door for Winnie to work on a variety of international issues of importance. Memorably, she succeeded in bringing the Lomé assembly to meet in Inverness.
It is fair to say that Winnie was known for her compassion and for tirelessly fighting for those who did not have a voice. Winnie was a champion of the Jewish dissidents in the Soviet Union. One such prisoner was Wolf Zalmanson, whose case she publicised and campaigned for relentlessly, until he was finally released to Israel. Winnie devoted much of her career to speaking out for those who could not speak for themselves.
Above all, she sought to build a Scotland that looked outwards, making a positive contribution to the world around us and, by doing so, enriching ourselves. She knew that a key part of that would be to mobilise Scotland’s young people. In her maiden speech as a member of Parliament, in 1967, Winnie had spoken in favour of reducing the voting age to 18. Years later, as an MEP, she was an architect—for which she deserves enormous credit—of the European Union’s Erasmus student exchange programme, which I hope Scotland will, in time, be able to rejoin.
Even after all of that, Winnie was not finished. In 1999, she was elected to the first Scottish Parliament, and, as the oldest member, it fell to her to open the first session. We can only imagine the emotions that she felt as she paid tribute to colleagues and friends from across political parties who had campaigned for decades to see this very place become a reality.
However, Winnie’s message on that hopeful day was very much one for the future. Winnie said that, if the 1707 Parliament’s demise had been
“the end of an auld sang”,
the creation of this place allowed us to write a new one. She urged us
“to sing ... in harmony”,
and to do so with
“fortissimo”.—[Official Report, 12 May 1999; c 6.]
Down the years, there has certainly been a lot of fortissimo in this building, and sometimes even a fair amount of disharmony, but we should never allow ourselves to forget that there has also been a lot of harmony. Across political divides, this chamber has been able to fulfil Winnie’s wish by working together, and I think that it is fair to say that, as a Parliament, we have achieved a lot over the years for the people whom we represent.
This Parliament has also helped Scotland to build relationships with new friends and partners the world over. The Scottish National Party would categorically not be where we are today without Winnie’s contribution. With her passing, my party mourns the loss of a giant of our movement, in both her contribution and her sheer force of personality. Equally, Scotland as a whole has lost a relentless champion and a true pioneer.
To Fergus, to Annabelle and to Terry, and to all of the Ewing family, we offer our condolences, but we hope that your grief is tempered by an enormous pride for your wonderful mother and a wonderful grandmother—for a life that was well lived, and lived ultimately in the service of others. On behalf of the whole chamber, I say: thank you, Madame Écosse. [Applause.]
That the Parliament expresses its deep sadness at the death of Winnie Ewing; offers its sympathy and condolences to her family and friends; recognises the historic place she will hold in Scottish political life having served in three Parliaments as a result of her victory in the 1967 Hamilton by-election, her election as an MEP, and as an MSP, where she presided over the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament; further recognises the high esteem in which she was held by colleagues from all parties, and appreciates her contribution as a principled public servant dedicated to the people of Scotland.14:08
There are not many politicians who, while never achieving senior office in Government, nevertheless become household names, but Winnie Ewing certainly falls into that category.
The First Minister referenced Winnie Ewing’s interest in and appeal to young people. I well remember being at school in Inverness in the 1970s—Winnie Ewing was already a household name by that point, and at that time was the MP for Moray and Nairn. In my primary school, everyone wore on their blazers little yellow badges in tribute to her, bearing the legend, “It’s Scotland’s Oil”. It might amuse members to know that my own blazer might have borne such a badge—although, to the relief of my colleagues behind me, I should say that my political beliefs have matured since then.
Even back then, Winnie Ewing was well known as an energetic campaigner and someone who fought hard for her constituents. She lost her seat in Westminster in 1979 to the Conservative candidate, but she bounced right back, fighting the European Parliament election as a candidate for the then Highlands and Islands constituency just a few weeks later, in due course beating the well-known Liberal, Russell Johnston, who had been MP for Inverness.
I can well remember the pictures of Winnie Ewing attending the Camanachd cup final, which, if I recall correctly, was being played at the Bught park in Inverness. Winnie was only part of the crowd, but she quickly realised that Russell Johnston, her opponent in the election, was a member of the official party and was having the players presented to him before the match, so she took it upon herself to run across the pitch, pursued by a television camera, and insert herself—uninvited—in the official party. She was certainly never shy of putting herself forward and never wanted to miss an opportunity to be in the limelight.
I am now the only Conservative MSP whose time in this place overlapped with Winnie’s, in the first session of this Parliament. Despite our political differences, I always found her to be engaging company and, on more than a few occasions, we found common cause. I recall one particular occasion, when Winnie had stood down as an MSP but had been invited as an honoured guest to the opening of the new Parliament building in 2004. Due to the security around the late Queen, who was performing the opening, all the roads around the Parliament had been closed to traffic. I happened to meet Winnie as she stepped out of a taxi at the top of Abbeyhill, very frustrated that she was so far away from the Parliament building. She quickly discovered that she was wearing quite unsuitable shoes for the long walk down Abbeyhill, so I offered her my arm to assist her on the journey, and we proceeded arm in arm towards the Parliament building for the royal opening. On the way, she regaled me with various tidbits of political gossip that, even now, I would not dare repeat to the chamber. I remember that, as we came in sight of the front of the Parliament, she complained bitterly to me that the union flag was flying above the building. I thought that it might be impolite to disagree with her—or maybe I was just terrified—so I maintained a diplomatic silence at that particular point.
Winnie Ewing was not just a nationalist icon but someone who was highly respected across the political spectrum, having served in three different Parliaments. She will be greatly missed by all those who knew her, and by many who did not ever have the chance to meet her but knew her simply by reputation. My condolences and those of my party go to the whole family, but in particular to our colleagues Annabelle and Fergus, who, as well as losing a political mentor, have lost a dear mum. I know how proud Winnie was of them both and how much she enjoyed seeing how their careers developed and seeing them take up the causes that she fought so hard for.14:13
It is an honour to speak today on behalf of the Scottish Labour Party in memory of Winnie Ewing. Before I begin, I also take the opportunity to again offer my condolences, and those of everyone at Scottish Labour, to the family of Winnie Ewing, in particular to Annabelle, Fergus and Terry. To many members on the SNP benches and to many more SNP members across the country, Winnie Ewing was, and remains, an iconic figure and an important part of their lives, so I am sure that many SNP MSPs have felt her absence keenly, and they, too, have my sincerest condolences.
It is hard to think of Winnie Ewing and the story of her life without thinking of the story of Scotland in the 20th and 21st centuries. She may have been christened Madame Écosse for other reasons but, in many ways, the political and public life of Winnie Ewing serves as a crucial insight into the changes that Scotland has been through. At a time when it was rare for young women to receive a university education and to enter politics, Winnie Ewing did both, and she did not pull up the ladder after her: she was generous in her encouragement of women across all parties. Further, far from picking an easy life, Winnie Ewing joined the SNP, whose members were, at that time, more likely to visit London to try and liberate the stone of destiny than to enter the House of Commons. However, as the First Minister said, she was indeed a trailblazer.
In one of many by-elections in the Hamilton area, Winnie Ewing scored a remarkable victory for the SNP that sent shock waves throughout the United Kingdom. In part because of that success, Labour fast-tracked its long-held plan for a Scottish assembly. Therefore, the Parliament that we are all in today is very much part of the Winnie Ewing story.
As an MEP, Winnie became famous for her very forthright speeches in the European Parliament, as she did later as a grandee in the Scottish Parliament. I was pleased to be in the chamber when, in that role, she had the historic privilege of opening the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and reconvening the Parliament for the first time since 1707, and the first time under a representative democracy. The legacy of Winnie Ewing is clear for all to see in the electoral success of her party and the articulate and thoughtful work done in the chamber by her children Fergus and Annabelle and by her daughter-in-law, Margaret Ewing, who also served in the Scottish Parliament.
I always looked forward to Winnie Ewing’s contributions in the Parliament, even though we occasionally disagreed. I have to be honest: she could be quite fearsome when she was disagreeing. I also have to say that she often gave a harder time to her own side than to me. That is an honourable tradition that has been reintroduced by her children. [Laughter.]
I will conclude with an anecdote. When I was door knocking recently—I will not be so cruel as to say where—I came upon the doorstep of an older gentleman; some would say that he is a wiser gentleman. He is now an ex-SNP member. In a lovely conversation, he told me that he had joined the SNP in 1967 due to the inspirational Winnie Ewing and her win in the by-election, and that he still held her in the highest regard. While the electoral fortunes of political parties come and go, it is clear to see that, above the ebb and flow of the tide of politics, the influence and legacy of Winnie Ewing live on.14:17
I begin, as others have, by offering my and my party’s sincere condolences to Winnie Ewing’s family and friends. I know that, for many in the chamber, she had an impact on not just their political journey but their personal life.
Winnie Ewing’s impact on Scottish politics and her party is undeniable. There was a historic by-election win for the SNP in Hamilton; she advocated for independence on the international stage; and she reconvened the Scottish Parliament. That is an honour that no one else will ever have. I hope that we can also take this time to remind ourselves that this place has to go on to achieve everything that was hoped for in the very first session.
Winnie Ewing has undoubtedly left her mark on the political landscape. She represented in politics at a time when it was unusual, to say the least, to see women taking a prominent role. That is a reminder to us that we need to continue to value women in politics and help all of us to bring everything that we can to the job.
We have to recognise the unique situation that we are in with both Fergus and Annabelle here as sitting members. Winnie Ewing’s loss to the party and the independence movement is obvious, but the loss to her family is profound. Finding the words to express that loss and convey how sorry I truly am is almost impossible. The gravity of grief, let alone having to navigate that grief in the public eye, is great, and it takes a great deal of strength to be able to sit through such a session. I hope that the outpouring of feeling and the formal marking of their mum’s death bring Fergus and Annabelle some comfort. Grief is a process, and I hope that, long after this debate concludes, colleagues around the chamber will continue to provide a listening ear.
Winnie Ewing achieved what many of us hope to do in our lifetimes. She has a tangible legacy written into the history books, with people who love her to continue to tell her stories—the triumphant ones of winning elections and, undoubtedly, the deeply personal ones of fun. Those are the things that paint the picture of a life well lived, and add colour and light when grief can weigh heavy.
I want to finish with a poem that was sent to me by a friend at my own time of loss. I hope that those across the chamber who feel Winnie’s loss will find some comfort in it.
“Don’t think of her as gone away, her journey’s just begun,
Life holds so many facets, this earth is only one.
She’s in a place of warmth and comfort where there are no days or years.
Think how she must be wishing that we could know today
How nothing but our sadness can really pass away,
And think of her as living in the hearts of those she touched,
For nothing loved is ever lost and she was loved so much.”
This is an afternoon of clear emotion, as we have just seen in the moving words of Gillian Mackay. I, too, extend the heartfelt condolences of my party, the Liberal Democrats, to everyone in the chamber today who loved Winnie Ewing, not least her children Annabelle and Fergus. It is lovely to see that Annabelle’s lectern is up and Fergus’s pen is in his hand; I hope that we might get some contributions from them later.
I have been particularly moved by what we have heard today, especially by the laughter. It is a testimony to the woman that the chamber has been filled with laughter on what would otherwise be a solemn occasion. I did not know Winnie—I think that I met her when I was a lobbyist—but it is impossible not to have been taken by her formidable reputation.
I have said several times that it is incumbent on all of us who are elected to the chamber to reflect the better natures of the people that we are here to serve. Winnie Ewing did so, and with aplomb. On news of her passing, my Scottish Liberal Democrat colleague Alistair Carmichael said that Winnie was renowned for her fierce determination, which was amply matched by her sense of fun. In his words, that meant that even those people who disagreed with her held her in respect and admiration. From what we have heard today, that was clearly true.
Her mark on Scottish politics is as indelible as the legacy that it leaves. Presiding Officer, you referenced the fact that she was the first person to speak in Parliament when it was reconvened after 300 years. Her portrait rightly hangs near the entrance to the chamber, because it is in part due to her efforts and tireless campaigning that the Scottish Parliament sits here today.
The famous 1967 by-election victory in Hamilton was groundbreaking in many ways, but what strikes me as we reflect on it is how undoubtedly important it was in paving the way for many more women from all parties and of all political stripes in the chamber and beyond, both to be inspired and to go out and get elected.
In her time as a member of the British delegation to the fledgling European Parliament and in her tenure as an MEP, it was her commitment and passion that helped to forge lasting strong ties between Scotland and Europe. As we have heard, she is one of the few people to have served in all three—as we had previously—of our Parliaments, which is testament to her ardent commitment to public service; it is then no wonder that two of her children followed her footsteps into Scottish politics and have made such a valuable contribution in her stead and in her shadow. However, they have grown beyond that shadow to make their own contribution as well.
All those achievements highlight a career that many of us, regardless of our political side or stripes, look up to and aspire to emulate. Although a lot of her politics were clearly at odds with mine and my party’s, I admire her greatly; in fact, it is difficult not to do so. She will be remembered as a stalwart and trailblazer, and for her passion, drive and perseverance, all of which will have lasting impacts on our society, far beyond her passing.14:23
It is an honour to be called to contribute to the debate on the motion of condolence for my mother, Winnie Ewing. I wish to thank the First Minister and all the other speakers for their kind and thoughtful words today; indeed, the family has been touched and supported by the condolences that we have received from across the chamber, Scotland and further afield.
From my mother’s sensational victory in November 1967 in the Hamilton by-election to her unseating the Secretary of State for Scotland in Moray and Nairn in the February 1974 election; from her victory in the first directly elected European Parliament elections for the Highlands and Islands in 1979 to her holding that seat in three more elections with vastly increased majorities; from her winning her Highlands and Islands seat as a member of this Parliament to her historic words in formally reconvening it, this long track record of electoral success—very much against the odds—was not down to luck but, rather, was a result of how my mother was able to inspire people. For she was not just clever, kind and generous, and she was not only stylish and charismatic; Winnie walked in other people’s shoes, and they knew that she would speak up for them.
Winnie transformed political campaigning. She spoke directly to people in their factories and homes and on the streets. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that, during the Hamilton by-election campaign, by the sheer power of her personality, she created a new mood of optimism both in Hamilton and across Scotland. Winnie inspired people to imagine how things could be in a normal independent country, with transformative powers to create a fairer society and to participate in the world directly, taking our seat in the United Nations between Saudi Arabia and Senegal.
The early Westminster years were tough for my mother as the sole SNP MP in a House of Commons of 630 members. There was, it has to be said, a great deal of hostility, much of it involving outright misogyny. When my mother was elected in 1967, having been encouraged to stand by my late father, we kids were all under 11, with my younger brother Terry just three-and-a-half years old. My mum was often met, on arriving home on a Thursday night—frequently exhausted—with a rather disgruntled wee boy running to the door, where Terry posed two crushing questions: “Where you been? Why you went?” I am sure that that plaintive cry strikes a chord with many colleagues across the chamber. I am pleased to report that my wee brother Terry’s grammar has improved massively over the years. [Laughter.]
It is simply beyond doubt that Winnie blazed a trail for women. She was far ahead of her time. She set up her own legal practice at 28 and became a respected and busy Glasgow criminal defence lawyer. She then became secretary of the Glasgow Bar Association and she was also president of the Soroptimist International club of Glasgow central. Winnie demonstrated that a woman’s place was wherever she chose it to be, including in politics. What is perhaps less well known is that Winnie personally inspired many women to stand for election, some of whom I see in the chamber today. Winnie was a champion of women’s rights. A friend with different political views said in her condolence card to me:
“All women in Scotland, I am sure, are proud of Winnie and what she did for us.”
A lifelong campaigner for human rights and oppressed minorities, Winnie was also a good friend to the Jewish community in Scotland, working with fellow Glasgow solicitor and friend Leslie Wolfson to free prisoners of conscience from the Soviet Union. In her 24 years as a Member of the European Parliament, Winnie was steadfast in standing up for our fishermen and fishing communities. She always spoke up for the Scottish interest. She was a champion of the Gaelic language and she did, indeed, earn the sobriquet Madame Écosse.
She worked with MEPs from other political groups and made common cause in getting things done that would benefit Scotland and Europe more generally. We can indeed see that in her work to get the Erasmus scheme up and running when she was chair of the European Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee, and we can also see that in her bringing the Lomé assembly to Inverness. We can also see that recognition in her being awarded the Médaille d’Or du Mérite européen, further to a presentation by the then European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, in November 2014 in Luxembourg.
When my mother reconvened the Scottish Parliament on 12 May 1999, she said in her contribution from the chair that she had four practical hopes for the Parliament: that we strive to adopt a more consensual style—which is perhaps a work in progress—that we be fair in our procedures to minorities; that the very existence of the Parliament lead to better relations with our neighbours across the isles; and that we live in harmony together, both those who were born here and those who have chosen to make Scotland their home.
I imagine that my mother would not mind me adding here—indeed, I expect that she would be a bit disappointed if I did not—that her hopes for our party would be that we remain a national party that speaks up for all parts of Scotland, that we never take any vote for granted and that we continue to seek to persuade our fellow citizens of the opportunities of independence by reasoned and courteous debate.
It would be wrong for me not to mention just how much our father, Stewart, devoted his life to provide support for Winnie, without which she simply would not have been able to do all the things that she did. She helped my father, Stewart, in his bid to become a Glasgow councillor in the 1970s. At a Saturday night pub canvass in Maryhill, she introduced a rather reluctant Stewart—as many here will know, he was not quite as gregarious as my mum, it is fair to say—to a group of ladies who were having a very good night out in the pub in Maryhill. She introduced my dad with the words,
“Ladies, this is your council candidate and my husband, Stewart”,
to which there was a bit of silence—a bit of a pause—and then the deadpan reply came,
“Winnie, are you boasting or apologising?”
Winnie was a trailblazer for women. She was a legend in her own lifetime, a heroine and a patriot but, for the family, she was also our mum. Fergus, Terry and I are inordinately proud of her. [Applause.]
Thank you. We will take a minute or two before we resume proceedings.