Margaret Ewing

Schoolteacher turned Scottish Nationalist MP and, later, MSP who married into the Ewing dynasty

Margaret Anne McAdam, teacher and politician: born Lanark 1 September 1945; assistant teacher, Our Lady's High, Cumbernauld 1968-70; special assistant teacher, St Modan's High School, Stirling 1970-73, principal teacher, Remedial Education 1973-74; MP (SNP) for East Dumbartonshire 1974-79, for Moray 1987-2001; Senior Vice-Chairman, SNP 1984-87; Leader, SNP Parliamentary Group 1987-99; MSP (SNP) for Moray 1999-2006; married 1969 Donald Bain (marriage dissolved), 1983 Fergus Ewing; died Lossiemouth, Morayshire 21 March 2006.

In October 1974, somewhat unexpectedly, Margaret Bain, as she then was, won the seat of East Dumbartonshire for the Scottish National Party. When she arrived in the House of Commons, badge messengers would stop her in the corridors, thinking she was a secretary, and say, a little severely, "Sorry, you are not allowed in there." In her soft, lilting voice, she would explain that she was an elected Member of Parliament.

She did enjoy herself, because at that stage there was a minority government and the 11 SNP members and three Welsh Nationalists really mattered when it came to voting and getting the government business through. What was important about her victory from the SNP's point of view was that East Dumbartonshire was not a seat on the Celtic fringes but was at the heart of industrial Scotland.

Like many of her SNP generation, Margaret Bain had been inspired by the dramatic by-election victory at Hamilton in 1967 of Winnie Ewing (who in 1983 would become Margaret's mother-in-law on her marriage to Fergus Ewing). Indeed, it was Winnie Ewing who went round "pouncing on anyone she thought had potential, particularly women, to put their name forward".

Margaret and I were both elected to the House of Commons at the same age of 29. Years later, she was to tell me, "I think you and I might agree it was too young for our own good!" I had only been to the House of Commons once, as a fidgety child sitting in the gallery; in Margaret Bain's case, she had never spent a night in London, only passing through the capital on a couple of school trips.

Although bewildered at first, she soon took to the Commons as a duck to water, partly because of her friendly willingness to chat to colleagues of all parties, partly on account of the obvious sincerity about her case for an independent Scotland, and, it must be said, partly on account of her fresh-faced rural beauty. If men in grey suits referred to her as a "sweet and charming kitten", it was meant as a compliment. She was deemed, even by men who were appalled at the prospect of an independent Scotland, to be one of the most beautiful ladies to be elected to Parliament.

She was born Margaret McAdam, the daughter of a farm worker. Her mother recounted to her often the story of her father being dragged out of the harvest field on a glorious September day to drive his wife to Lanark so that she could give birth. Margaret and an elder brother who became a senior prison officer at Saughton in Edinburgh spent a lot of their time as children just being associated with nature.

Margaret Ewing would say that there was nothing like a healthy respect for wind and weather to make one recognise one's place in life. Throughout her political career, both at Westminster and latterly, from 1999, in the Scottish Parliament at Edinburgh, she contributed to discussions and committee work on rural affairs, being in the vanguard of the environmental movement before it became fashionable.

When she was only 12, she had the misfortune to contract tuberculosis and spent 13 months in a hospital in plaster from neck to toes. She was in Ward 13 and would wryly tell us that she spent her 13th birthday in the hospital. She wanted to be a doctor but was advised that, having missed so much schooling, she should study languages, in which she went on to get a good degree at Glasgow University.

But her hospital experience directed her towards remedial teaching, in which she was to specialise. In 1968, she began as Assistant Teacher at Our Lady's High school in Cumbernauld and the following year was married to Donald Bain. By the time of her election to Parliament in 1974, she was Principal Teacher in Remedial Education at St Modan's High in Stirling. Her colleague the Labour member Dennis Canavan testified that she was an extremely well-respected and effective remedial teacher, and I know at first hand from constituents how caring she was.

I remember Margaret Bain as a woman of forthright views wanting Scotland to be part of the European Community and totally independent, having Scotland's own voice on international affairs and defence. She really did want a Scottish Secretary of State for Defence sitting down at the United Nations and talking to other ministers.

It would be unfair to say that she wanted anything other than an outward-looking nation with something to offer the international community. She would chide me during my opposition to Margaret Thatcher's Falklands war that a Scottish government would not have allowed itself to become involved in military action, and that policies towards South Africa, overseas aid and Central America, Nicaragua and El Salvador would be wholly different.

She made no secret of the fact that her feelings were left-wing and she was very uncomfortable at the decision of the SNP in 1979 to vote to bring down the Labour government. The electorate punished the SNP and, like many of her colleagues, Bain lost her own seat. She secured only 12,654 votes to the 20,944 of Michael Hirst, the Conservative Party chairman in Scotland and the 23,268 of Norman Hogg, later to be Labour's deputy chief whip and now Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld. (In fairness to her, there were also disadvantageous boundary changes.)

She turned to journalism and, her first marriage having ended in divorce, in 1983 she married Winnie Ewing's son, Fergus Ewing (now MSP for Inverness East), entering into what was to become an outstandingly happy relationship. In 1987, almost as part of the Ewing dynasty (her sister-in-law Annabel is the SNP MP for Perth), she became MP for Moray, the area that her mother-in-law had represented before going to the European Parliament as Madame Ecosse.

Colleagues on the Select Committee on European Legislation have said that for 10 years Margaret Ewing did valuable if unsung work on a committee that should be less obscure than is now the case. She also took a serious interest in the services, representing the big RAF base at Lossiemouth, and concerned herself in a serious way with the very real problems of low-flying training.

In 1999 she had no hesitation in opting to go from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for which she had worked throughout her life. There she took an active part in the Rural Development Committee and in the Justice Committee of the Parliament.

In her last long illness she was without self-pity and typically courageous.

Tam Dalyell

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Property

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: KENT MARKET TOWN - An exciting new role has ar...

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices