50 years on, Annabelle Ewing looks back on the Hamilton by-election

Annabelle Ewing was seven years old when her mother Winnie beat Labour against all the odds in the Hamilton by-election on November 2, 1967.


It was brought on when Tom Fraser, the sitting MP, resigned to take a job as head of the Hydro Board. It had been a rock-solid seat for Labour for decades.


But Winnie, who was fighting her first campaign, polled 18,397 votes – 46 per cent of the vote.


“I remember feeling aggrieved on the night of the count as whilst Fergus was allowed to go I was not as I had a bad cold,” says Annabelle.


“And if everyone I have ever met over my life who claimed to have been in Hamilton that very rainy night outside the count was actually there, then the rest of Scotland must have been pretty empty.”


After the victory, the SNP’s national secretary Rosemary Hall organised what was dubbed the Tartan Express – a hired train to take Winnie, her family and supporters from Glasgow to London Euston.


The only people with sleeping berths were the Ewings – Winnie, husband Stewart, Fergus, Annabelle and Terry. “I remember being at central station in Glasgow feeling absolutely bewildered as there were so many people and there was a piper.


“It was really quite overwhelming. I was put to bed early but remember the train full of folk and singing and music. There were hordes of folk.”


Growing up in the spotlight changed the family dynamic but Annabelle says it just became a standard way of living. “People often ask what I felt about how life changed overnight for the family, about how I got used to it, but to me it was my new normal, growing up with a Scots heroine constantly in the spotlight.


“Children are very resilient. Mum would take me to surgeries on a Saturday morning and I would often go down to London for a few days in the summer school holidays.


“I also remember mum being away every week. My younger brother Terry who was only four when mum was elected would say to her when she came back: Where you been, why you went.


“But I also remember my dad’s cooking – well-fired sausages! I remember a life suddenly full of all these new people and lots of ceilidhs.


“I guess those formative years changed utterly by my mum’s victory have made me who I am.”


But Winnie’s impact extended far beyond her immediate family.


“Mum’s legacy: she changed Scotland,” says Annabelle.


“Even to this day, I get people when they hear my surname asking if I am any relation and then going on to say what an inspiration my mum was to them in their lives.


“How she spoke to them directly. How she spoke up for them.”