THERE was a sense of grief unusual across the party political divide at Holyrood yesterday following the death of Margaret Ewing.

Today's Holyrood proceedings in the makeshift chamber of committee room 2 will begin with a motion of tribute to a woman who, at 29, became one of Britain's youngest MPs when she won East Dunbartonshire in 1974, by a majority of just 22.

Mrs Ewing, who had fought both breast cancer and pneumonia in recent years, commented that she "was no stranger to the NHS", but each time she visited hospital she was "struck time and again by the amazing dedication of the staff".

After these illnesses, her husband, Fergus, said she was deeply touched by the hundreds of letters, cards, and flowers that arrived. Last night, he was back at their home in Lossiemouth where she died.

Tributes came from SNP colleagues and political opponents. Alex Salmond, against whom she contested the party leadership in 1990, said last night: "Margaret Ewing was an outstanding member of parliament in both Westminster and in Scotland and a hugely supportive friend and colleague. She will be missed across the political spectrum because Margaret was one of the few politicians without an enemy in the world.

"Margaret also possessed a wicked sense of humour and her running commentaries at Westminster on a variety of government ministers were a joy to listen to. She carried that mastery of the devastating debating one-liners into the Scots Parliament."

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld, who as Norman Hogg, the Labour MP, defeated Mrs Ewing in 1979 in East Dunbartonshire, said: "I liked her from the moment we met and came to respect her as a politician of decency and integrity.

"She held no grudge when I took her seat. When she returned to the Commons, we became firm friends while remaining opponents. She fought her corner with passion and was very highly regarded. I will remember her with respect and affection."

George Reid, the Holyrood presiding officer who shared a Westminster office with Mrs Ewing in the 1970s, said: "The entire parliament is saddened and shocked by Margaret's death."

Angus Robertson, who succeeded her as Moray MP, said: "Over recent years she fought bravely against cancer, which never diminished her energy for the independence cause.

"Margaret even attended the AGM of Moray SNP constituency association two days ago, despite ill health." Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's Holyrood leader, said: "Margaret was an outstanding parliamentarian and an inspiration to all who knew her, not least in the brave way she fought illness in recent times. She will be hugely missed by her constituents whose corner she fought tirelessly over many years." Jack McConnell said: "For over 30 years, Margaret Ewing has made a significant contribution, both on behalf of the constituents she represented and Scottish politics."

Annabel Goldie, for the Scots Tories, said: "There is a very real sense of loss at the death of Margaret Ewing. She was an able parliamentarian and a doughty advocate for the constituents whose interests she represented robustly and eloquently."

Nicol Stephen, for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: "I first got to know Margaret when we were colleagues in the House of Commons. She was one of the kindest and friendliest people in politics."

Colin Fox, Scottish Socialist party convener, added: "Margaret was a respected MSP who fought on despite her illness. Her untimely death represents a loss not only to those who knew her personally, but to Scottish politics as a whole."

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who is also patron of the Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign, said: "I think everyone who knew Margaret will be deeply saddened by this news. I will remember her as a young woman in politics who was great fun and the life and soul ofthe party." The charity Breast Cancer Care, whose campaigns Ms Ewing had supported in the past, also paid tribute. Spokeswoman Sophie Howells said: "She will be remembered as a passionate campaigner to improve support for the 41,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year."

Although she had already indicated she planned to stand down next year, Ms Ewing's death will create a by-election in Moray, where she had a record majority of 5312 over the Tories at the 2003 Holyrood poll, with Labour in third and the LibDems in fourth.