We are re-sharing this content ahead of the memorial service for Winnie Ewing in Inverness on Saturday July 15. 

A SCOTTISH songwriter has spoken about how his music helped inspire Winnie Ewing to her stunning political victory in the Hamilton by-election in 1967. 

Ewing took 46% of the vote in a constituency the SNP had not even contested at the 1966 General Election, defeating Labour’s Alexander Wilson. 

She would go onto tell Jim McLean, now 84, that his LP Scottish Republican Songs helped her on her road to political success. 

The tracks themselves were sung by his close friend Nigel Denver. 

“The letter came out the blue in 1970," McLean, originally from Paisley but now living in London, told The National.

READ MORE: ‘Folk music can drive the push for independence’, says Sam Shackleton

It read: "I cannot address the writer of songs so much part of my life as Mr McLean. You are a household name and it seems ridiculous that we have never met. No single man has done so much for Scotland as you. Your songs are brilliant. 

"Last night at 2 am Billy Wolfe, Hugh MacDonald, Donald Bain and I were all listening to the new record  -  I think it is the best yet."

The pair were then able to meet shortly after and it was then that Ewing told McLean how his music inspired her victory. 

The songwriter says he became interested in the Scottish independence movement and republicanism at a young age.

He explains how one of his first big breaks came in the 1960s when the Polaris, an American nuclear submarine, threatened to come to the Clyde.

McLean joined with his fellow musicians to write songs like Ding Dong Dollar and We Dinna Want Polaris. 

McLean set up his own production company, Nevis Records, but says he "always kept that interest in the independence movement".

“I owned that record company up until the middle of the 1980s and wrote about things like the Highland Clearances to try and make people aware of these big historical events.”

The National: Winnie Ewing wrote to Jim McLean in 1970 to express her admiration for his musicWinnie Ewing wrote to Jim McLean in 1970 to express her admiration for his music (Image: Jim McLean)

Songs like The Massacre of Glencoe opened many people’s eyes to a period of Scottish history which they knew little about and many of his songs reflect his republican views.  

The writer admitted he isn’t much of a singer himself, but that music was always on in his house and so his career trajectory was hardly surprising. 

McLean also attended an early folk club in Glasgow in 1959. 

The rebellious element of the songs appealed to McLean. Bob Dylan even sought him out in a London folk club in 1962 for a chat about music during the early days of his career. 

The National recently reported on Sam Shackleton, a Scottish folk singer who believes that music can play a key role in the push for independence. 

It’s something McLean has spent much of his music career doing. “I think political songs are still around in Scotland. There is still so much Scottish-based material. 

“Bands maybe don’t have to sing songs about independence anymore though to feel that they are part of the movement.”

Last year, McLean was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame and a concert of his songs is set to be performed at this year’s Celtic Connections. 

The event will mark the launch of the Jim McLean Songbook. It’s even more special than expected for the songwriter given that the concert has already had to be cancelled once due to Covid restrictions. 

The independence movement has come a long way since Ewing’s victory in 1967, but McLean’s movement has remained.

So much so that he’s got a fan in the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader Mhairi Black who, like Ewing, sent a letter to McLean. 

“She wrote me a letter after she saw a book I was mentioned in and said I was a part of her life and that she knew my songs which was lovely to hear. 

“She told me that although the world was a bit of a mess, the songs helped to make it worthwhile.”

The Songs of Jim McLean concert will take place in Glasgow on February 4.