When Winnie Ewing won her famous by-election victory in 1967 GEORGE DOWNIE was chief reporter on the Hamilton Advertiser. Here he offers a personal recollection of the dramatic event which sent political shock waves far beyond the Lanarkshire town

IN terms of majority, the headline was hyperbolic -Winnie Wins by a Mile. In terms of result, it was a massive understatement.

The intro to the Hamilton Advertiser's by-election special that frenetic Friday of November 3, 1967, read like a battlefield dispatch and said it all:

''SNP sensation! Winifred Ewing this morning became MP for Hamilton. Labour lost the seat they had held for 50 years, and the Tories lost their deposit.

''Labour were stunned. The Tories were humiliated. And Hamilton belonged to Scotland. Majority 1799.''

Equally graphic, a cartoon depicted a balloon-faced Harold Wilson being punctured by a giant Scottish thistle.

The caption ''Narks to You'' was a vengeful retort to the Prime Minister's dismissal of Scots Nats as ''Scots Narks'', picking up the rhetoric of his Secretary of State for Scotland, Willie Ross.

A smiling picture of Mrs Winifred Ewing sporting an SNP thistle brooch completed the splash front page - the first time in 111 years the newspaper had run an early morning edition.

Ironically, she was posed in front of Lanarkshire's County Buildings - a 200ft monument to Socialist ascendancy and ultimate arrogance.

The men who had emerged from miners' rows now sat in offices where one's place in the hierarchy was denoted by whether one had rosetted carpet, a coatstand or, the ultimate status symbol, an executive loo.

Looking back some 32 years, it still seems an incredible result, meriting the Advertiser's editorial prior to the by-election: ''If Labour fail in Hamilton, it will not be the writing on the wall. There will be no walls left to write on.''

The upset had been predicted in my own column under the headline ''Red sails in the sunset'', for which the Labour candidate never forgave me.

Winnie Ewing herself could not believe it when I told her at 11pm that the vote piles indicated victory without a recount. She had hoped to get 17,000 votes; at 12.25am she had 18,397 votes and a seat in the Commons.

Tony Blair's ''seismic shift'' oratory seems inadequate to describe the landslide towards the SNP. Cataclysmic for Labour; catatonic for the Tories, whose few supporters ''looked rather like Celtic supporters in the Rangers end'' amid the sea of Saltires when the result was announced.

So what brought about that historic victory which shook the Labour Party to its foundations, started the rot for the Tories in Scotland, and began the long march to Scotland's first Parliament since 1707?

Contributory factors included:

Defection by traditional Conservative - more properly Unionist - voters who spotted a chance to beat Labour and were unimpressed by a likeable but ineffectual candidate.

Retirement of a very popular Labour MP with a huge personal vote on all sides of the political spectrum.

A Nationalist candidate who was articulate and charismatic, a female Tony Blair who shared the aspirations of an emerging ''Middle Scotland''.

Labour's mistake in going for a lobby-fodder plodder who matched Old Labour's job specification of being a trade unionist and a local councillor.

Reaction to a ''London knows best'' campaign driven by Labour's London Office and Tory Central Office.

But just as Blair and New Labour captured the mood of the moment with their 1997 General Election victory, so did the Hamilton electorate sense that it was ''Time for a Change''.

Sons of miners no longer followed ''faither doon the pit''. Spain replaced ''doon the watter'' as the holiday destination. And housing estates replaced council schemes for the ''upwardly mobile'' who once would have been socially ostracised as ''snobs''.

The by-election which was to give the Nationalists' street credibility had been called to choose a successor to Tom Fraser, former Scottish Under-Secretary and the Minister of Transport who introduced the 70mph limit on Britain's motorways.

Hamilton was a true-red mining constituency. Labour candidates were sponsored by the then mighty National Union of Mineworkers. The union men had chosen Tom Fraser, and this time they chose another miner - Alex Wilson.

But unlike Tom Fraser, Alex had not had the benefit of elocution lessons or acquired the polish of Cabinet rank. Also, he was from the other side of the Clyde - from Forth - and his council experience looked towards Lanark, the ancient county town, rather than towards Hamilton, its modern administrative capital. He had no local allegiances or allies.

As the Advertiser commented that morning: ''One felt sorry for Alex Wilson. The post mortem will blame him, but that will not be fair. He is an honest man and a straight man. His tragedy was that he was defending a Government that has angered the country, a seat that has had no real choice for 50 years.''

Labour had indeed upset the country with its policies. Harold Wilson was not trusted, the party was felt not to have delivered on its promises, and ex-headmaster Willie Ross, the Labour Party's Scottish supremo, hated the ''Narks'' with a passion bordering on xenophobia.

There was a tartan backlash to Willie's hectoring and the English Harold got one in the eye, so to speak.

As for the Tories, their candidate Iain Dyer, like Winnie Ewing a Glasgow lawyer, had put up a reasonable performance against Tom Fraser in the previous General Election - recording over 11,000 votes and coming second.

This time, 6000 of these votes went like ''snaw aff a dyke'', and the hapless Mr Dyer suffered the ignominy of losing his deposit.

His party immediately blamed Central Office for using the English term Conservative, and declared that next time it would fight under its own Unionist banner. Like the electors, it declined to give Mr Dyer their vote and selected another Glasgow lawyer, Ross Harper.

Now another Ewing emerges to fight the SNP corner in Hamilton. Annabelle, daughter of ''Madame Ecosse'' as Winnie is known in the European Parliament, was just seven when mother became a legend.

The name of Ewing will send a frisson through the old Labour stalwarts of Burnbank, Blantyre and Larkhall. Enough for them to warn the new Labour candidate, Bill Tynan: ''Every voter you should nurse - for fear of getting something worse!''