This article was first published in 2022.

OUR interactive page goes all wobbly, folks, and takes us back in time to 16 November 1967. Winnie Ewing, having sensationally taken a Labour seat for the SNP in a by-election, arrives in a Hillman Imp (Scottish-built) at Westminster, to be greeted by a pipe band and 400 ecstatic Scottish – and Welsh – nationalists.

Among them, 83-year-old Mr S.C.L. Gibson, of Edinburgh, told The Glasgow Herald: “I’ve waited 30 years for an occasion like this, and next time I hope it will be outside a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.” How time flies.

It was, said the Herald, “an uproarious occasion”, even if “being a woman, she was, of course, several days later than she need have been.” Oopsy.

Our parliamentary correspondent concluded: “Like that other famous Scottish lady, she was clearly in her prime. Whether she will turn out to be in her element as well, only time will tell.”

In her element she may or may not have been, but stunned, entitled Scottish Labour MPs were in her face, and soon stories emerged of bullying and even physical manhandling.

Hamilton had been just another Scottish seat that Labour had taken for granted, fielding a standard issue, suited and booted party machine cooncillor as candidate. The SNP took 46% of the votes, with a 38% swing from Labour, in a seat they hadn’t even contested in the 1966 general election. Professor Richard Finlay of Scotland has described it as “the beginning of modern politics in Scotland”.

So, who was this “young, dynamic, articulate and attractive” (Prof Finlay again) candidate trying to drag Scotland out of the constitutional Stone Age? To start at the beginning, Winnie Margaret Woodburn was born in Glasgow on 10 July 1929. Her father, George Woodburn, was a small business owner who supported the Independent Labour Party.

Educated at Battlefield primary and Queen's Park secondary in Glasgow, she graduated MA and LLB from the University of Glasgow, where she joined the student nationalists. After graduation, she qualified and practised as a solicitor.

Somewhat typically of leery Scottish attitudes to independence, the mutable electors of Hamilton, having briefly become the focus of world attention, voted her out again in the 1970 general election. Then, in February 1974’s general election, she was returned as member for Moray and Nairn, defeating Gordon Campbell, the then Tory Secretary of State for Scotland. She also became an MEP in 1975 at a time when the European Parliament was made up of representative parliamentary delegations rather than directly elected candidates.

However, after losing her Westminster seat in 1979, she was successful that same year in the first direct elections to the European Parliament. She hadn’t given up on Westminster but, in 1983, came third contesting a seat for for the Northern Isles, a place for which she nevertheless retained a great fondness, despite its long history of opposing the SNP’s Nordic vision for Scotland, preferring London rule as Edinburgh is too far away.

While an MEP, French newspaper Le Monde christened Mrs Ewing “Madame Écosse” for her doughty championing of Scotland. By 1995 she’d become Britain's longest serving MEP but, in 1999, declined to stand again for Europe, becoming instead an MSP in the first session of the Scottish Parliament, representing the Highlands and Islands.

As the oldest member, she presided over the Parliament’s opening, memorably announcing: “The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th day of March in the year 1707, is hereby reconvened.”

She had a way with words, our Winnie. In 1967, arriving at Westminster, she declared: “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.” Alas. World still going, Scotland still waiting. At the time of that seismic victory in Hamilton, SNP chairman Arthur Donaldson said: “We are not coming to London to play English politics … The sooner we get out of the House of Commons and leave room for surplus English MPs the better it will be for both of us.”

That was 55 years ago. Still there. Still playing English politics. But the nationalist presence is far stronger – 48 MPs – than when Winnie first blazed the trail as a lone star. Her victory energised a new generation of nationalist activists, and it’s said that it prompted Harold Wilson’s Labour Government to set up the Kilbrandon Commission to investigate setting up a devolved Scottish Assembly.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, born three years after Winnie’s Hamilton Hamilton win, has named her as her greatest political inspiration, saying: "She was somebody who changed the course of Scottish political history.”

The First Minister said Mrs Ewing had given her "hugely valuable advice" on public speaking, telling her that, as a young woman in politics, she had to “stand your ground and believe in yourself”. Seems to have worked.

In 2003, the year her husband Stewart died of a suspected heart attack after a fire in their house, Winnie retired from the Scottish Parliament, as she had vowed to do two years earlier, though she continued to serve as the SNP's president until 2005.

In the meanwhile, she’d created a Ewing Dynasty, with her son Fergus serving as an SNP MSP, as did his late wife Margaret and Winnie’s daughter Annabelle, who was also an MP between 2001 and 2005.

Now 92, Winnie Ewing’s legacy in Scotland is an extraordinary one. Eventually respected by politicians on all sides, this proud daughter of Scotia took the country to the world, where she wanted it to play its rightful part.

In 1995, eminent Herald political correspondent Murray Ritchie wrote: “To call Winnie Ewing a passionate politician is an understatement … Most people who challenge her views on Scottish politics end up regretting it …”

He added: “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.”

Follow they did, though, not just in the SNP, but certainly in the footsteps of its most revered stateswoman and inspiration.