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MacEwan, who was born on December 24th 1911, came from an affluent Highland family in Scotland. He was the son of the leading Scottish Nationalist Sir Alexander MacEwen. Paradoxically however, but dispaing his family class background, as a boy he was deliberately sent to Rosall, an English `public’ school, so that he would loose his local accent.
At Aberdeen University he studied forestry. He met novelist Neil Gunn, who convinced him over self-government for Scotland. At the age of 21, MacEwan lost his leg in a motorcycle accident. After spending months in an Inverness nursing home, he became an inveterate reader. A deep interest in Marxism and a degree in law from Edinburgh followed. Having joined the Labour Party, MacEwan gained election as a councillor in Banff.
The Security Service took an interest in him in 1938, when he was noted as a passenger on a ship taking visitors from London to Leningrad for a month’s visit. No doubt his political position had shifted anyway by this time and he resigned from Labour in protest at its attitude towards the Soviet Union. He generally followed the line of the Communist Party during the early years of the Second World War. By 1941, MacEwen had joined the Party and stood as the Communist at the 1942 Dumbartonshire by-election (see picture of MacEwan on the campaign trail).
MacEwen became legal adviser to the relative short-lived `Scottish Daily Worker’, and soon transferred to the main `Daily Worker’ office in London, where he worked for the next 13 years. He became the paper’s parliamentary correspondent in 1943, and later news editor.
Over the years, MacEwen’s role in this post caused considerable problems, with journalists complaining that he tired them out on too many unnecessary jobs. He antagonised so many, who upped and left the job, that the paper had fewer and fewer to rely upon. MacEwen was himself formally disciplined by the editor and shifted to the less sensitive post of features editor.
This down-grading could not have helped; certainly by November 1956, MacEwen’s loyalty seems to have fading away. He was till under observation by MI5, which noted on his file: “MacEwen’s political views are apparently on the wobble.” He became associated with the New Reasoner trend in the Party that pioneered a revisionist approach to Marxism, engaging in openly factional activity.
MacEwen resigned from the Daily Worker in November 1956 and, after engaging in some heavy controversy, was expelled from the Communist Party in 1958. This then resulted in his following a course that echoed his youth and led to ecological politics for the rest of his life.
He edited the journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, became a member of the ExmoorNational Park Committee and pioneered a green approach to landscape conservation.
He produced his memoirs, `The Greening of a Red’ in 1991 and died on May 11th 1996, aged 84.
Pic: MacEwan in his later years
Sources: Guardian May 15th 1996; `The Greening of a Red’; MI5 records National Archive