THE husband of one of Scotland's most prominent politicians died yesterday after a fire at their home.

Stewart Ewing, who was married to Winnie Ewing, Scottish National Party MSP, collapsed after the fire, believed to have been started in a chip pan, at their house in Goodwill, Miltonduff, near Elgin. He and his wife extinguished the fire themselves before firefighters arrived.

Mr Ewing, who was in his late 70s, was taken to Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin where he died from a suspected heart attack.

An SNP activist, he was an adviser to his wife, who represents Highlands and Islands, and had encouraged her to stand in the Hamilton by-election in 1967, which she won, a major breakthrough for the SNP.

He had been married to Winnie, mother of the Scottish Parliament and formerly Europe's longest serving Euro-MP, for 47 years. The couple have three children, Fergus, 45, SNP MSP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, An-nabelle, 42, SNP MP for Perth, and Terry, a 38-year-old investment analyst.

Mrs Ewing was in a ''state of shock'', according to Fergus Ewing. He said: ''It appears my father and mother tackled the flames and were assisted by the local fire brigade. But the shock appears to have been just too much for him. My father had been unwell for many years. He had a heart problem.''

John Swinney, SNP leader, said the party's thoughts were with Mrs Ewing, their children and daughter-in-law Margaret. ''They have lost a husband and father and Scotland has lost a staunch patriot. Stewart made an outstanding public and private contribution to the cause of Scottish independence.''

Alex Salmond, SNP Westminster leader, added: ''Stewart Ewing was a fine man and a tremendous support to Winnie over a long period in public life. He will be sorely missed by the many people in the SNP who had great affection for the man and great respect for his wise counsel.''

Jack McConnell, first minister, said: ''The thoughts of all of us in Scottish politics go out to Winnie and all her family.''

A chartered accountant and senior tax lecturer at Strathclyde University, Mr Ewing was a force in the SNP himself as an agent and expert in electioneering techniques.

In the mid-1970s, he became a Glasgow councillor representing the Summerston ward.

In 1996, Mr Ewing and a neighbour were taken to hospital for a check-up following another fire at the couple's home.