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Fergus Ewing profile: ‘Forthright’ SNP veteran was fixture in Scottish Government

To go with story by Nora McElhone. First person piece for Autumn Farming feature Picture shows; Fergus Ewing Rural Economy Secretary. unknown. Courtesy Supplied by Scottish Government Date; Unknown
To go with story by Nora McElhone. First person piece for Autumn Farming feature Picture shows; Fergus Ewing Rural Economy Secretary. unknown. Courtesy Supplied by Scottish Government Date; Unknown

Long-serving SNP minister and Highland MSP Fergus Ewing was a permanent presence in government since Alex Salmond took the party to power 14 years ago – but he starts the new Holyrood session on the back benches after a reshuffle by Nicola Sturgeon.

The 63-year-old comes from a family regarded as something close to ‘SNP royalty’ as  the son of veteran Scottish nationalist Winnie Ewing or ‘Madame Ecosse’, as she was known following her time in the European Parliament.

The political dynasty also includes his sister Annabelle Ewing, who has been an MSP since 2011, and his late wife Margaret was, until her death from breast cancer in 2006, an SNP MP and MSP too.

It was announced on Wednesday that he has left his post in the first minister’s Cabinet as rural economy and tourism secretary.

He is replaced by Angus North and Mearns MSP Mairi Gougeon who becomes Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands.

Mr Ewing is the son of SNP veteran Winnie Ewing, pictured, in 1998.

The Inverness and Nairn MSP has been a minister ever since the SNP formed a minority administration in 2007, initially serving as minister for community safety and then as the minister for business, energy and tourism.

Bullying allegations

He was appointed as cabinet secretary for the rural economy in May 2016 by Ms Sturgeon and his ministerial role was expanded further in February last year, despite bullying allegations made against him. 

Mr Ewing denied the allegations made by civil servants and told reporters a “process” was under way.

More recently, the SNP minister has been accused of pressurising civil servants to make improper payments to businesses.

Mr Ewing has been at the centre of exchanges with senior officials over his plans to distribute the £40 million Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme although he denies all accusations of wrongdoing.

Former Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing on a visit to Waterside Farm near Dunblane to launch Scotland’s Land Matching Service.

The Times reported earlier this month that no formal complaint has been submitted against Mr Ewing – who is separately still under investigation for allegedly bullying two civil servants a year after the claims came to light.

He was subject to similar bullying accusations in 2018, when he was forced to apologise after a government official alleged bullying.

He said at the time he could be “forthright” in the way he expressed his opinions.

‘A miss to Scotland’s agricultural sector’

Mr Ewing appeared to be generally well-liked and respected among Scotland’s farming leaders.

Martin Kennedy, president of NFU Scotland, said it was “sad news” that Mr Ewing would no longer be responsible for the agriculture brief.

He added he hoped Mr Ewing’s replacement will have “the same recognition of the importance of agriculture in Scotland”.

 

Sutherland farmer Joyce Campbell, who appeared on BBC Two’s ‘This Farming Life’ and supports women in agriculture, described the former cabinet secretary as a “gentleman”.

She added he would be “a miss to Scotland’s agricultural sector” and claimed Mr Ewing had “an understanding of the challenges faced by the industry and how we can help fight climate change”.

However, the SNP politician was told to “stop dithering” and take more action on policy, by former industry leader Andrew McCornick who previously president of NFU Scotland.

Long history in SNP

The SNP politician has been a Highland MSP since the Scottish Parliament opened in 1999.

Educated privately at Loretto School in Musselburgh, he went on to read Law at the University of Glasgow, where he was a member of the university’s SNP association.

He is on the more socially conservative wing of the party and abstained in the vote on the repeal of section 2A in Scotland, which outlawed the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools.

In 2013, Mr Ewing also voted against legislation to introduce same-sex marriage in Scotland.

The first minister said the SNP veteran has “brought diligence and endeavour to all of the jobs he has held”.

She added that he has been a “champion” for Scotland’s farmers and crofters “during one of the most difficult, challenging and uncertain periods our agricultural sector has faced”.

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