Tom McAlpine - an appreciation

TOM McALPINE Councillor

Born: 23 September, 1929, in Wishaw. Died: 21 February, 2006, in Biggar, aged 75.

TOM McAlpine had represented the Biggar area on Clydesdale and then South Lanarkshire Council for 17 years. Born in 1929 in Wishaw, Tom's life was characterised by strong commitments to the peace movement, to Scottish nationalism, to industrial democracy and to the quality of community life.

He was one of a generation initially radicalised through involvement in the Iona Community. With the encouragement of the Rev Cameron Wallace, his local minister, Tom became leader of the Youth Associates and then one of the first three lay members of the Community.

He was an active member of Scottish CND from its formation and of the Committee of 100. Elected as a Labour councillor in Hamilton in 1960, he chaired the council industrial development committee. He eventually left the Labour Party because of its support for nuclear weapons.

Professionally, he had graduated as an electrical engineer from the Royal College of Science and Technology, in Glasgow. The "class of '52" still met together from time to time in recent years. He worked first at Belmos and then became chief engineer at Mine Safety Appliances. But his growing interest in co-operatives and industrial democracy diverted him from a standard commercial career. In 1963, he established Rowen Engineering Company, in Kinning Park, Glasgow, as a workers' co-operative which was also involved in local community development. He helped to set up a similar venture in South Wales employing disabled miners. Rowen survived commercially for over seven years. He followed this by starting Chieftain Industries, in Livingston, together with Billy Wolfe, the SNP chairman. Chieftain produced domestic heaters, but under Tom's guidance the company went on to develop energy-saving heat pumps - an initiative well ahead of its time.

Tom joined the SNP in 1967, seeing it as a radical alternative in Scottish politics. He was a national vice-chair and vice-president of the party during the 1970s and contested several parliamentary elections. He came within a few hundred votes of winning the Lanark seat in October 1974.

He was elected as SNP councillor for Biggar in 1988 and this started a new phase of active involvement in his local community. He worked skilfully and successfully to deliver a range of projects in the town and became very much part of the local landscape - "the big man". He was also a very committed board member of the New Lanark Trust.

Tom's enthusiasm and vision throughout his life were always infectious and many got involved in social and political activities because of his encouragement. One old friend called him "a bit of a Viking". He had friends across parties and in many walks of life. He left some unfinished projects, but whenever he had died, there would always have been some new ideas waiting to be put into practice.

Tom had a son, Kenneth, with his first wife, Jean, a daughter, Rachel, with Jane Buxton and three children, Robin, Ewan and Shona, with his wife of almost 40 years, Isobel Lindsay. He has five grandchildren. He had great pride in them all.