When a campaign was launched to save Scotland’s military history, it could have been a case of history repeating itself.
A huge campaign launched to save Scottish army regiments and a government accused of a lack of respect for the country’s military history.
Politicians in Westminster from the SNP, Lib Dems and Labour joined together to oppose major changes to armed forces north of the border.
Fears that the famous cap badges of regiments like the Black Watch could be lost forever through cost-saving measures in the Ministry of Defence have, for the moment, been put to bed after it said the regimental system was “fundamental” to the future of the army.
But it was an all too familiar story for Annabelle Ewing, who, nine years ago, was ejected from the House of Commons chamber after calling the then defence secretary a “backstabbing coward” over major changes to the military north of the border.
Then MP for Perth, Ewing, who was elected to the Scottish Parliament last year, said she was standing up for the communities in her constituency, which is inextricably linked to the Black Watch, when Labour minister Geoff Hoon announced in 2004 in the Commons the creation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Remembering the events of 16 December, Ewing says she would do exactly the same again.
“I was very involved in the Save the Scottish Regiments Campaign,” she says. “The regimental headquarters of the Black Watch were in Perth at Balhousie Castle. In parts of Perth, Fife, Dundee, most people in the area will have some link to the Black Watch.
“It was a very, very strong campaign, and was against the backdrop of the soldiers being in Iraq. Black Watch had fought two tours back-toback, which was at that point very unusual.
“Geoff Hoon duly stood up in the chamber of the House of Commons and basically announced the end of the entire regimental system in Scotland, notwithstanding that the Black Watch that day were returning from Iraq.
I felt it was just appalling and I called him a back-stabbing coward.” She had to leave the parliament building after refusing to withdraw her comments, then had to get a member of staff to go into her office and rescue a suitcase full of Christmas presents – and her plane tickets – given her swift exit from the Commons.
She adds: “I don’t regret it, I would do the same today.” “When I got back on the Monday one of the doorkeepers beckoned me over at division time, they may be dressed in tights, but I can assure you, you would not want to get on the wrong side of them.
“I thought ‘my goodness what have I done now.’ I went over and he whispered to me, ‘well done’ and I took that as a huge accolade.
“Of course they’re not supposed to make any comment, but he did and I was very heartened by that.
“I was also presented with the red hackle by a former Black Watch colonel, which I still have at home.” And she adds. “At the time of the campaign this was foretold, if you amalgamated the regiments in the way that they did, these socalled golden threads would be lost and it would be a salami-slicing process that would inevitably lead to the end.” She failed to get back into Westminster in the 2005 general election, but was back in front-line politics last year on the Mid-Scotland and Fife list – the very last MSP to be announced across Scotland.
She was made vice-convener of the Rural Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Committee and is also Parliamentary Liaison Officer for Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead. And though she was born in Glasgow, she says she has always had an affinity with rural Scotland and has lived in the village of Comrie for the last ten years.
She says: “I moved to Perthshire when I was elected to serve as MP. It’s where I now call home.
“I live in rural Scotland and understand the diversity of all the rural parts of the length and breadth of mainland Scotland and the islands – that’s also what makes it very attractive as a portfolio to cover.
And she adds: “When my mother was elected as MP for Moray, she bought a wee cottage in Lossiemouth and in my teenage years I spent an awful lot of time there.
“We spent holidays in Lossie, and we went up for weekends. There was a tremendous town association with Herbruck in Bavaria, which is still going, where each year people in Lossie of all age groups but particularly children of school age, would go to Germany or vice versa, and I was involved in that.
“So, I had a great affinity with the community there. A North-east fishing community, farming being a big interest, the food and drink industry being a big interest as well.
“I was brought up, really, with this as a background in my life. And it’s always something that from that age I’ve been interested in. So it’s a very good fit that I’m able to sit on this committee now.”
The Scottish Government has been pushing ahead with climate-change targets and ways to tackle environmental issues like recycling and waste – and Ewing says her own community is a perfect example of how the country is moving forward.
“The Comrie Development Trust has been one of the vanguards, really, throughout Scotland in terms of their climate challenge fund projects.
“Already what I have seen in Comrie is even the most sceptical people about the recycling message, the green message, are now quite happily separating out their rubbish. There are many people I know in Comrie who maybe four or five years ago would have said this is a load of nonsense, who now religiously separate the rubbish and now if their partner or whoever were to put something in the wrong bin, they’d go into the bin, take it out and put it in the right bin.
“I believe you have to take people with you and that’s when you get real behavioural change. Being at the centre in Comrie of these kind of initiatives has also fuelled my interest in progressing environmental matters.”
She is not the first Ewing to enter the Scottish Parliament and is part of what is sometimes referred to as the SNP’s ‘dynasty’ – although she prefers to stick to ‘family’.
Her mother, Winnie Ewing, is one of the most famous Scottish Nationalists since the birth of the SNP, a former MEP, MP and an MSP in the new Scottish Parliament from 1999 to 2003.
Her brother Fergus has been an MSP since 1999 and is currently Energy Minister and her late sister-in-law, Margaret Ewing, also served in both Westminster and Holyrood. She said: “The story that my mother tells about my first political steerings perhaps were when I asked her, when I was about six or seven years old with a by-election coming up, ‘Why don’t the Scottish vote for the Scottish?’ “I have been asked about what it was like being brought up in such a household. For me it was normal, Suddenly, my mother was this very famous person and she was away every week down in London. I remember leafleting as a youngster.
“There was a certain inevitability involved in becoming involved in more on the front line.”
She took an enforced break from politics after losing her Westminster seat after boundary changes in 2005, but was back in the Scottish elections last year. She said: “In 2005 we came fairly close to just getting the new seat but not close enough. I had a period outwith front-line politics, which actually I would thoroughly recommend to anybody because it allows you to get your balance back in life.
“Any experience in life they say that doesn’t kill you is good for you, you get through it and you become a bit more philosophical about things as well, which is no bad thing as far as politics is concerned.
“It is absolutely true to say that as a politician you are there at the behest of the voters. What may be their view one year may not be the view the next year.”