Hamilton: Winnie Ewing’s lightning strike against Labour

Winnie arriving at Westminster from files. Source unknown

By Alexander Bruce

Alexander Bruce campaigned in the November 1967 Hamilton by-election won by Winnie Ewing with 18,397 votes (46%). Labour’s Alex Wilson, the overwhelming favourite, came second with 16,598 votes (41.5%). This was a constituency that had been solid Labour where they had taken two-thirds of the vote at every general election from 1945 to 1966. The Conservative candidate came third with 4,986 votes (12.5%). Winnie won with a swing of 38%.

By-elections do produce some surprises but this was nothing short of a lightning strike to Labour by the SNP, a party that in the 1950s had taken only 1% of the vote and had only stood 23 candidates the year before at the 1966 general election, taking just 5% of the vote across Scotland.

Winnie was elected to The European Parliament in the first direct elections in 1975. A parliament that she found much more to her liking where she earned the ‘title’ Madame Écosse due to her promotion of Scottish interests. By 1995 she became Britain’s longest serving MEP earning the additional title Mother of the European Parliament. She stood for the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Presiding at the opening of the parliament, as the eldest qualified member, she proclaimed “The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on 25th day of March in the year 1707, is hereby reconvened

Alexander (Sandy) gives his recollection of the Hamilton campaign and that momentous train journey with Winnie when she left Glasgow to take her seat at Westminster and the proud memento of the march to Westminster that today is displayed in his library.

“The only physical memento of 1967 that I still have is the flag of Scotland that led the parade from the train station to the Houses of Parliament. When my parents moved from Edinburgh to Fyvie, all my precious news clippings of events about the Scottish National Party prior to and after 1967 were discarded. However, I can assure you and your readers that my profile along with my SNP mentor at the time was plastered all over sundry newspapers. We did not have television back then although I am confident footage of the event would be archived somewhere.

The flag from the march to Westminster in 1967 proudly displayed in Alexander’s library.

“”What I remember is simply euphoria and loads of adrenalin. There was a buzz in the air prior to the by-election result, tears of joy at the result, and the journey to London was raucous. Did we get any sleep? – absolutely not. And yet, we were all very much wide awake and exuberant marching to the Houses of Parliament. As I recall, we were greeted along the way with epithets that were vicious, derogatory, and demeaning. I remember feeling that we were being treated like we were sub-human and that we came from another country. Well, that latter part was true!! It was surreal to see Winnie Ewing, resplendent but diminutive being swallowed up into the forbidding entrance of the Houses of Parliament. While she was not the first SNP member of parliament to be elected to that chamber, the repercussions of her election for the movement of independence was profound and long-lasting.”

Alexander moved to the States a few years later where he married. He has four grown-up daughters, lives in Memphis Tennessee and continues to follow Scotland’s journey to independence. He is a cousin of Newsnet’s editor.

The headline photograph is from family files. The source is not known.