Winnie Ewing – ‘Madame Écosse’: A champion for Scottish Independence in Europe

EFA is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Winnie Ewing, EFA’s first woman president and one of the most notable champions for the Scottish National Party and the cause of Scottish Independence in Europe.

She was one of the pillars of EFA, serving as an EFA MEP for ten years between 1989 and 1999 and two mandates as EFA President (1991-1994 & 1997-2000). She was a visionary who worked tirelessly for Scotland and for a Europe of all peoples, such was her commitment to Scottish Independence in Europe she earned the nickname ‘Madame Écosse’ – Scotland’s voice in Europe.

We will always remember her as one of the most committed voices in our political family and we were proud to award her as an Honorary EFA Member at our 2005 General Assembly.

We offer our deepest condolences to her family, her friends and our partners in the SNP at such a sad time.

As part of our tribute to her work, her legacy, and her impact on EFA, we’ve included contributions below from those who served alongside her as MEPs and our current president:

Ian Hudghton – SNP MEP (1998-2019)

“When I was elected to the European Parliament, in November 1998, I had the privilege of working alongside Winnie for some months, until she was elected to the devolved Scottish Parliament.

Winnie was hugely influential in the SNP campaign for Scottish Independence, and across the wider Independence movement.

I made my first-ever speech in Strasbourg, with Winnie sitting beside me in the chamber. She was a great encouragement to me personally, as well as a massively influential supporter of all of Scotland’s interests. It was very fitting that she became known as Madame Ecosse.

I am certain that the residents of Scotland will, in the not-too-distant future, vote in favour of being a normal, independent country. Winnie will be remembered as one of the greatest supporters of that ideal.”

Jill Evans – Plaid Cymru MEP (1999-2020)

“Dr. Winifred Ewing was a legend. She personified the SNP. From the 1960s, together with Plaid Cymru’s President, Gwynfor Evans, she championed the cause of self-determination in the UK Parliament. The close partnership they forged ensured that our two parties worked closely together for decades.

As a leading woman in politics, Winnie became a role model for so many of us. At a UK and European level, she put Scotland on the map. She was a passionate European and saw Scotland’s future as an independent European nation.

On a personal level, she always encouraged and supported me. On my first visit with EFA to Strasbourg, she invited me to her apartment for lunch, which was homemade Scotch broth and champagne! She generously shared her experience and knowledge about how to work effectively in the European Parliament. She was always ready to work with other politicians to further Scotland’s independence but had no time for those who stood in the way. Long before I was elected as an MEP myself, I received Winnie’s monthly newsletter which was packed with information about what the European Parliament was doing and how to ensure that all nations and all minorities were recognised and respected.

Winnie presented me with a signed and bound copy of the record of the first days of the new Scottish Parliament of May 1999 (see below). As the oldest member, Winnie chaired the inaugural session and uttered the historic words to rapturous applause:

“The Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened”.

Less well known but equally as significant, she added that in the parliament:

“…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”.

In the SNP and in EFA Winnie was a trailblazer. She made it easier for women in politics. I would venture to say that she was an inspiration for every EFA party. She was a voice for the unrepresented and a woman who never ceased to work for Scottish independence. We can be very proud of the part she played in EFA and while we will mourn her death, we should also celebrate her remarkable life.”

Nelly Maes & Bart Staes– Former Flemish MEPs

“When the late Maurits Coppieters became a member of the European Parliament for the Flemish National Party Volksunie in 1979 after the first direct elections to the European Parliament, he also met Winnie Ewing for the very first time. Back then, there was no structural European cooperation between pro-European parties striving for greater autonomy within their states or even for complete independence. Winnie Ewing had been in her MEP seat since 1975 at a time when the European Parliament was still composed of representative delegations from the national parliaments.
Winnie Ewing was a strong personality. Shrewd, super active and always networking for the interests of Scotland and other stateless European nations.

In 1981, under the impetus of Volksunie MEP Maurits Coppieters, later succeeded by Jaak Vandemeulebroucke and the late Willy Kuijpers, the European Free Alliance was founded. That became the ever-expanding progressive alliance of regional and national parties from Flanders, Bretagne, Occitania, Sardinia, Vallée D’Aosta, Catalonia, the Basque country, Galicia, Friesland, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party and many others.

 Winnie Ewing was by then known in the European Parliament as “Madame Écosse”. With passion, the SNP and its representative in the EP helped drive the Europe of peoples, regions, and nations. Her ardent pleas for safeguarding the legitimate interests of a free and independent Scotland within the European Union provided a new description. We called Winnie Ewing “The uncrowned Queen of Scotland.”
As president of the European Free Alliance, she took her task seriously. She visited all partners and provided a political boost for many parties with her political flair. We remember her as a strong politician with the power of conviction but also with historical awareness. This was evident when in 1999, after she was no longer a candidate for the European Parliament and elected to the Scottish Parliament. As the oldest qualified member, she was allowed to open the first session as Speaker with the words, “The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th day of March in the year 1707, is hereby reconvened.”
 Scotland loses a great politician and the European Free Alliance a former President of exceptional stature. We offer our condolences to the entire family and all friends from the SNP.”

Lorena López de Lacalle – Eusko Alkartasuna, EFA President

As you can see, we can honestly say that the EFA party was and is forged by very strong committed personalities that make all our voices heard.

I did not have the opportunity to meet Winnie Ewing in person but as an interpreter, it was always a joy to interpret her in plenary when she always started her speeches at the European Parliament saying: “We, from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland….”

Over her two mandates as EFA President she led our party with her open, witty, and firm character, helping us to become what we are, the only European party which advocates Self-determination as its core message.

She was proud of her country and worked earnestly for her, she fought for women’s rights over six decades and she became Madame Ecosse in Europe as well as Madame Europe in Scotland.
She will be a source of inspiration for new generations of Scots who will certainly bring back Scotland to the EU as a new independent State. Thank you, Winnie, from the bottom of our hearts.