MRS Winifred Ewing, president of the Scottish National Party, next

week celebrates 20 years as a member of the European Parliament. Madame

Ecosse, mother of the house in Strasbourg, is now Britain's

longest-serving Euro-MP (but not the oldest).

She will be guest of honour at a formal reception on Monday when she

will be on her best behaviour. On the following night there will be a

less formal party when, with luck, the other Winnie Ewing will turn up.

This second, more entertaining Winnie Ewing likes nothing more than a

ceilidh and an argument. This is the feisty political combatant and

nationalist crusader, the Winnie Ewing of the flashing anger with anyone

who criticises Scotland or dares to dispute her opinions. The Winnie

Ewing who picks arguments and celebrates winning them -- which she

usually does -- by breaking into song over a dram. It should be a lively


To call Winnie Ewing a passionate politician is an understatement. The

European Parliament has long become accustomed to her occasional

outbursts -- tantrums would not be too strong a word -- and her cogent

interventions. Most people who challenge her views on Scottish politics

end up regretting it as the President of the Parliament himself, Klaus

Hansch, did recently when he had to offer her a public apology after a

minor misunderstanding.

A few months ago in Brussels Mrs Ewing was taking questions after a

robust speech. A member of the audience rashly suggested that Scotland

might not gain from independence or even want it. Mrs Ewing finds this

sentiment incomprehensible. Rather than explain why she disagreed, she

simply took offence, questioning his patriotism. Baffled that anyone

could even think such a thing, she left him condemned more or less as a


This is the style which has served Winnie Ewing well for almost 30

years at the centre of Scottish politics. It might not be logical but,

like the scattergun, it often works. Opponents have learned the hard way

that hitting Winnie Ewing over the head with facts is unproductive. She

responds, usually convincingly, with emotion and the conviction of the

single-issue campaigner.

Winnie Ewing is an old-fashioned nationalist of the romantic and

cultural kind for whom ideological political disputes are secondary --

an approach which helps in the conservative rural areas of Scotland, but

has only fleetingly proved powerful enough in the rough and tumble of

Labour-dominated urban Scotland.

But it takes more than romantic conviction to explain her remarkable

record as an electoral winner during almost three decades in a party

noted for only occasional if spectacular triumphs. Luck has, admittedly,

played a part but only at the start of her career.

Winnie Ewing came to prominence at the Hamilton by-election of 1967

when the local Labour Party, corrupt and incompetent, surrendered the

seat by its own complacency. That amazing result has left the Scottish

Tories and Labour's Scottish unionists paying the price to this day

because it let loose the genie of Scottish nationalism which continually

threatens their precious British nation state.

There had been successes before for the SNP but none quite like this.

Of all the party's charismatics -- Sillars and MacDonald, et al -- none

has managed to stay the course like Winnie Ewing. When two weeks ago she

was honoured by Glasgow University, where she qualified in law, the Dean

of the Faculty, Professor John P Grant, recalled her famous saying in

the aftermath of the Hamilton breakthrough: ''Stop the world -- Scotland

wants to get on.'' Almost 30 years on, the Scotland she yearns for as an

independent member of the European Union is farther down that road but

has still a dauntingly hard journey ahead.

Her other famous victory cry -- ''this is the millennium'' -- came in

the aftermath of the dramatic personal defeat in Scottish post-war

politics when in 1974 she toppled none other than the Secretary of State

for Scotland, Gordon Campbell, to take his Westminster constituency of

Moray and Nairn.

I recall my colleague, William Hunter, having just written a piece

predicting that result in this newspaper, repairing to the pub shaking

his head. ''It's the enormity of what I've just written,'' he fretted.

Next day his story appeared over the headline: ''This is a Campbell who

could be going . . .'' In those days you did not say things like that

about Scottish Secretaries but Winnie Ewing proved that in Scottish

politics the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Yet the nationalist millennium still has not come. The SNP enjoyed

salad days in 1974 only to fall into disarray over devolution and wither

for almost a decade. Only occasionally has nationalism triumphed in that

time -- in Govan, briefly, and most recently in Kinross and Perth in

Westminster terms; and in North East Scotland in the European elections.

For most of her elected life Winnie Ewing has been exiled in Europe

working in relative obscurity. It was Le Monde which first described her

as Madame Ecosse and although her Labour critics will tell you no-one

calls her that except herself, they are wrong.

Until Allan Macartney won North East Scotland last year Winnie Ewing

was alone in Strasbourg. The Madame Ecosse sobriquet survived because

she had always presented herself as a representative of Scotland as well

as her constituency -- a presumption which causes resentment among her

opponents. When the chair in Strasbourg calls for a distinctively

Scottish voice it usually turns to Mrs Ewing, to the irritation of some

of her rivals.

Harold Wilson, whom she liked and admired, sent her unelected to

Strasbourg in 1975 which meant that for a time she was both MP and

Euro-MP. Later she legitimised this secondary role by winning the

Highlands and Islands Euro-seat for the SNP in the first Euro-elections.

Being from a minority party she landed herself in trouble for a while

when she joined a parliamentary voting block including French Gaullists.

The SNP at home was embarrassed but no-one knew what to do with her.

''Winnie will do as she's telt,'' one of the left's luminaries said back

in Edinburgh.

But making Winnie do as she is telt is never easy. Nowadays she sits

among a group of radicals which includes the flamboyant French crook

Bernard Tapie, now facing a jail sentence for fixing soccer matches. Her

Labour opponents in Strasbourg -- there are no Scottish Tories left to

bother her -- snipe from the sidelines but Winnie Ewing is long since

secure enough to stand aloof.

For most of her life in Europe she has worked on routine committee

duties, trying to improve the lot of the Third World with Euro-aid,

helping youth and other worthy efforts, and throwing some famous

parties. But two concerns have brought particular attention.

The Spanish in Strasbourg could see her far enough. For years she

battled -- ultimately in vain -- against the Spanish fishing fleet's

attempts to gain more access to Scottish waters. Being a lawyer she took

issue with the European Commission's legal base for changing the

Spaniards' terms of accession to the Treaty of Union, to the extent of

producing her own bulky legal judgment. Most independent observers

regarded it as flawless but, this being Europe, it was ignored in the

interest of political expediency, a force which has no respect for


Her other campaign -- in which she had cross-party support -- was a

winner but only after many years. Her efforts to win so-called Objective

1 funding -- where the big European aid money lies -- for Highlands and

Islands allowed her to claim a personal triumph.

Mrs Ewing took the case to the very top during the British EU

presidency in 1992. Across the floor of the House in Strasbourg she

asked John Major if he would back the case for Objective 1 for Highlands

and Islands. The Prime Minister promised he would -- and the rest is


Her presidency of the SNP has been eventful and relatively successful

-- given the party's respectable poll ratings -- though it owes most to

Alex Salmond's abilities to keep the warring left and right in his party

away from each other's throats. Winnie Ewing did not help her own cause

with her bizarre and much-criticised recent attack on Roseanna

Cunningham, victor in Perth and Kinross, whom she accused of having an

affair with her present daughter-in-law's ex-husband many years ago.

It was seen as a blatant bid to block Cunningham's candidature for

purely personal reasons but it backfired when someone tipped off the

press. An embarrassed Mrs Ewing put on a brave face and swallowed her

pride, not that she had much option. This curious episode is now buried,

Mrs Ewing must hope, for ever.

Winnie Ewing will be 66 on Monday and is now probably into her last

term in Strasbourg. Before the last election she was told she might have

a serious illness. While waiting for the results of tests she decided

she would stand down in Highlands and Islands if the news was bad. But

it was not. She fought on and won again, allowing the SNP and herself to

breathe a sigh of relief.

She knows that the party has too often seen its power bases in

illusive terms: thus it believed, for example, that Western Isles

belonged to the SNP when in truth it belonged to Donald Stewart. When he

disappeared the seat went to Labour. The same principle could apply in

Highlands and Islands. It looks like the SNP's private property but it

could in reality be only Winnie Ewing's.

In Winnie Ewing's time across the water in Europe a new generation of

Scots has grown up, some of whom don't even know who she is. Winnie

Ewing can walk down a street anywhere in Scotland nowadays unnoticed

(quite an achievement given her recent attachment to clothes of

traffic-stopping colours and a hairstyle which needs kept in place with


Yet she is one of a disappearing breed, a Scottish politician of

stature who wins votes because of who she is, regardless of party

politics, and because she is trusted. She has her place in history which

is why hers will be a tough act to follow. If, as expected, she retires

after this term no-one should be surprised if her successor is called