Mon 10 Jan, 2011

There is a book I was lent recently. Written in 1994, by P W Agnew, it is called "The Efficient Alternative". Its sub-title is "How we can do away with nuclear power, reduce pollution, conserve natural resources and save money". Quite.

Although born in 1927, Pat Agnew was always ahead of his time. An engineer all his life, he was extolling combined heat and power in the 1960s. He designed small scale hydro plants, foreshadowing today’s community renewables. And, towards the end of his career, he inspired a generation of engineering students at Glasgow University.

Pat was proud of Scotland’s traditional brilliance in engineering. But he was scathing in equal measure about the endemic short-termism of British finance for industry. He watched, dismayed, as technology pioneered in the UK was developed commercially by western European neighbours. He wrote frequently and compellingly to the Herald on the subject, arguing, for example, that the future of engineering on the Clyde lay not with warships but with off-shore renewables.

But his contribution was not solely to engineering. Prior to his death in 2006, he had provided an enormously generous donation of £20,000 to the Scottish Green Party’s first Scottish Parliament election campaign in 1999. That donation was instrumental in electing Robin Harper and putting the Greens on the political map at last.

Twelve years later, ahead of this year’s election, I have just learned that Pat’s will has earmarked £10,000 for the Scottish Greens. That kind of sum barely registers for the big political party machines. But for a party like ours, reliant on individual members’ and supporters’ generosity, every penny counts. And it is a huge boost to what we can do.

More than four years after his death, Pat’s vision lives on.

Alison Johnstone is the top candidate for Lothian in this year’s Scottish elections and a Green councillor in Edinburgh     

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