That is a question every Nationalist of a certain age can answer. I wish I could tell you that I was at the Hamilton Count! Alas, however, I was 3,000 miles away in Dover, Delaware. I had joined the Party in Ayr two years previously – but here I was in bloody Delaware when all was happening for the SNP! However, it was world news, and I remember NBC covering Winnie’s triumphant train journey to Westminster and the tears of joy were running down my face.
I returned from exile the next year and things were still buzzing with Winnie taking Westminster on single-handedly! I got to know Winnie very well in the coming years. She has always been a supporter of women in our party and I was no exception. I was her guest in Strasbourg on a number of occasions and there, I witnessed first hand the hard work she did on Scotland’s behalf and also the high esteem in which Madame Ecosse was held in the European Parliament. To say she raised our profile in those corridors of power was putting it mildly! There did not seem to be a nation whose parliamentarians did not enthuse about Winnie – with the notable exception of the Tories from the Shires, who were so rude when she spoke in the chamber – “greater fear has no man than the fear of this woman daring to upset their cosy sinecures!”
One of my fondest memories was my trip with Winnie to Orkney and Shetland. I was her “warm-up” act on the speaking tour! We met Ally Bain on our flight from the mainland and we had a “wee dram” on the plane. Nobody had told this Sumburgh Virgin (sic!) about the difficulties of landing in crosswinds. The plane suddenly dropped onto the runway – Winnie and Ally spilled not a drop. I, of course, trailed through the airport smelling like the proverbial brewery!!
The halls we spoke in were packed to the rafters. Once again the warmth towards Winnie was awesome. I learned so much about constituency work from Winnie. She answered every letter personally, wrote to children who had won prizes, wrote sympathy letters and when it came to knocking doors and greeting people during street work, I would contend that she still has no equal.
Winnie loves fun, and fun was what we had during two wonderful Hogmanays spent with Stewart and herself at Miltonduff. Again, at New Year’s Day Lunch in Elgin Golf Club,we were surrounded by people wanting to shake hands with Winnie. To Winnie there is no such thing as a private event!
But it was when we were both elected to the first Scottish Parliament in 1999 that I really appreciated why Winnie was an icon in our Party. Much has been written in recent days of her opening words in the Parliament. “The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th of March 1707, is hereby reconvened” – there was not a dry eye on the SNP benches when we heard those words. Typically for Winnie, she always credited those words to Dr. Robert MacIntyre (the SNP’s first MP). She told us that, she has visited “Doc Mac” shortly before his death and he said “say these words at the Opening if you get the chance”. That she certainly did!
I could go on forever on this subject, but I will close with an example of Winnie’s sheer professionalism. In my role of Chief Whip, I used to go into the chamber of a morning about 9.15 am for the debate starting at 9.30am. My job being to “count heads!” One head I never had to count was that of Dr. Winifred Ewing , She was always already in the Chamber greeting me with the words “Good morning Madame Whip –present and voting!” If only some of the others had been so inclined!
You stopped the world Winnie – we are nearly there.