harry diamond's memoir


can you get me into the papersThey appeared the day after I appealed to a council committee for more staff to enable me to do something about Glasgow's poor image. My written report to the committee laid it on a bit thick because I knew I had to make an impact on the none-too-receptive members. It was in the early days of the new district council's life in 1975 and many councillors had no idea at all what Public Relations was or what I was there for. I told the councillors that An opportunity exists as never before for a major effort to be made to balance the effect of the many attacks, often uninformed, which are launched against the city, and influence radically what people throughout Britain and the rest of the world think about the City of Glasgow. It was Jack Richmond, leader of the Conservative group, who provided the headlines by commenting it would be wrong to expand my staff because it would be seen as empire building. Then he added, "I think you have delusions of grandeur, Mr Diamond," a comment that was reported throughout Britain. A leader in the Scottish Daily Express said, Our hearts go out today to the man with the toughest job in Scotland, Mr Harry Diamond, public relations officer of Glasgow District Council. He represents 'one of the least understood cities in Britain,' he tells the general purposes committee as he seeks an extra £21,000 a year to increase his staff from seven to 12. He is told sharply by Tory Bailie Jack Richmond that his department has delusions of grandeur and that this is the wrong time to make such a proposal. The wrong time was indeed a kindly understatement, looking at all the newspaper headlines yesterday proclaiming how Glasgow had thrown away £12.3 million on housing money by deciding on a rents freeze just as it was asking the Government for £3.7 million to improve some of its houses. Poor Harry Diamond. This £12.3 million could have brought him 2,900 assistants for a year to improve Glasgow's good name. But a whole army of PROs could do nothing for the city while it has some of its present councillors. That day when I went into the dining room for lunch there were smiles all round as councillors taunted me with, "Poor Harry. He can't get 2,900 assistants!" I didn't get the additional staff but the handful of us who were there in 1975, mostly secretarial and administrative staff, struggled on. We took on rather more jobs than we could comfortably handle because we adopted a campaigning role rather than the passive one of merely defending the council's whimsicalities. Over the years I made repeated requests for more staff. My fellow officials and councillors looked forward to my flights of rhetoric as I pleaded for the resources to tell the world what a great job we were all doing. On one occasion I told my committee News media throughout the world are constantly telling readers, listeners and viewers about Glasgow's deprivation, poor housing, vandalism, and the mindlessness of some of its football supporters. I believe it is essential for us to do something now to demonstrate to the world that Glasgow is a good place to work, bring up one's children, establish new commercial and industrial enterprises, and to visit on holiday. Michael Kelly, a young Labour councillor, who years later had good reason to be grateful to the Public Relations Department when he became Lord Provost, said the department should be merged with the Information Bureau, a hut in George Square which gave out tourism pamphlets. A columnist in The Sunday Mail wrote, Harry Diamond, the fortunate City of Glasgow's winsome public relations officer, has six of a staff to help him cope with the outpourings of the bampots' convention in George Square. Not, I gather, enough for Harry. He is so convinced that he needs twice as many hirelings that he is busily trotting round the various council groups drumming up support. Latest in line for the sales talk was the SNP group, better known as The Wombles. After listening to 20 minutes' powerful persuasion from the silver-tongued spokesperson, a motion was proposed, 'That the department be disbanded! All good knockabout stuff. Eventually when it was realised what I was doing I was given the staff and money but it was hard work. Not every councillor thought my propaganda efforts on behalf of the city were all that useful. One came into my office one day when I was drooling over a full page about Glasgow in the New York Times. "What about than then?" I said proudly. "That's no use to me Harry, I've got no punters (constituents) in New York," he said. Appeals for staff were by no means the only time my journalist colleagues had fun at my expense. A Herald story in 1978 revealed that for a little while after the sound and fury of the day's work I liked to wind down by playing a recorder for a while before I went home. My musical talents, said the Herald writer, also encouraged my staff to leave the building on the very stroke their conditions of employment allowed! A couple of days later the newspaper revealed that John Boyle, Director of External Relations of the Scottish Council, Development and Industry, had a clarinet concealed in an office drawer. There was some talk about John and myself joining that marvellous entertainer Roy Castle, who played innumerable instruments, in a concert for charity but John and I decided it would be more charitable on our part if we didn't bother. Just before a couple of by-elections in 1976, in which one of the candidates was young Michael Kelly, I wrote an article for the Glasgow Herald telling candidates what would be expected of them if they were elected. My real purpose was to give the public an idea how demanding a councillor's life could be. I pointed out that as councillors they would have to serve on about six committees, hold regular surgeries, be available to constituents day and night and observe a strict code of conduct. For this they would receive £10 a day for attending duties approved by the council. They would also get a telephone allowance of £14.50 a quarter to pay a telephone account which always exceeded that amount, often by more than 100%. Then came the bit that caused a minor uproar. I wrote that councillors also got lunch free in the City Chambers dining room and free travel on buses. Next day a Daily Record headline screamed, COUNCIL CHOKES ON PR MAN'S 'FREE' LUNCHES. One or two mischief-making councillors had gone to my journalist friends and complained that I had libelled them. The lunches weren't free, they said. They sacrificed a subsistence allowance so that they could stay in the chambers and work. The exact nature of the work was unspecified. The rewards that councillors receive has always been a subject of much speculation. The average man in the street, whatever that means, tends to think they are all grossly overpaid for whatever they do. My own view is that some of them are worth the money they receive and some of them are not, which is hardly a profound judgment, but makes them not much differerent from people in many other jobs. Nowadays Glasgow's 83 councillors receive allowances on a scale suggested by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla). Each councillor receives a basic allowance of £6000 a year. The Leader of the Council gets an additional £18,540 Special Responsibility Allowance. His deputy gets an additional SRA of £13,905. The chairmen of important committees like Education, Social Work and Housing also receive the basic £6000 plus £13,905 SRA. The convener of the Labour Group, a post specially-created in the new administration for Councillor Jean McFadden for a reason known only to a select few but which is the subject of myriad theories, is not paid beyond the basic £6000 for this post but she does get an allowance of £7416 as chairman of Social Strategy, whatever that means. In previous administrations the Leader of the Council always took the chair at Labour Group meetings. The Lord Provost gets the same as the Council Leader. Both, however, get many opportunities to travel and be entertained lavishly both abroad and at home. According to the council's budget estimates for 1995-96, which may be seen in any library, the Lord Provost gets an allowance of £100,000 to cover travel, entertaining important visitors to the city, gifts to charities, and a variety of other things. That figure could be a great deal more now. The Leader of the Opposition, whose frustration at being virtually powerless to achieve anything in a Labour-dominated city like Glasgow is considerable, gets the basic £6000 plus a SRA of £5,562. All the councillors also receive a telephone allowance of £75 a quarter but most of their business calls are made from the City Chambers which are also paid for by the council, or more accurately the tax payer. And they still get a very good free lunch although they will continue to argue the point, and a very good selection of cream cakes with tea in the afternoon. Elected members of towns with smaller populations than Glasgow receive smaller allowances. One friendly councillor who tried to do me a good turn one day was rewarded with a Daily Record headline reading JOHN TALKS HIS WAY TO A RED FACE. The previous day John McQueenie had come at my request to a the manpower committee to support a proposal of mine. He was in full flood when the chairman of the committee stopped him with the words, "You are not a member of this committee, John. You are not entitled to speak!" John and I slunk sheepishly out. Just before the local elections in 1986 I achieved nationwide headlines by signing a nomination form for a candidate certifying that she was a fit and proper person to be a councillor. Jean Hamilton had already been my local councillor and was standing for re-election and although senior officials were supposed to keep their political allegiances to themselves I thought it would be churlish to refuse to sign. Besides, I was half asleep in front of the television set when she came to the door of my house that night and my wife brought her in. She mumbled something to me about needing my signature and I scribbled it on the form she gave me. I wasn't all that sure what I was signing. Unfortunately Mrs Hamilton was a Tory councillor and the Labour-controlled council was not amused. Jean McFadden, the council leader, with whom I had many run-ins over the years, told reporters, I think Mr Diamond has done irreparable damage to his relationship with all members of the council. I do not expect our officials to be political eunuchs but I think it is inappropriate for a senior official to come out publicly in support of a candidate. I would say the same if it involved a member of my own party. Relations between Mr Diamond and councillors will never be the same. I don't know what she meant by that last comment because my relations with Jean were never the same at any time. One day she could be friendly and reasonable and the next she could be impossible to talk to. I was by no means the only one who thought the best way to cope with Jean was to keep out of her way. Throughout the years each political party was convinced I was an adherent of their opposition and I told every group leader I was an anarchist. "You'll all be put to the sword when we take over," I told them. They regarded this as another of my many idiosyncracies. It wouldn't be fair, though, not to mention two occasions when Jean McFadden was at her most human. In 1990 when I came out of hospital after a very unpleasant operation she sent me a very warmly-worded letter. She also spoke stoutly in my defence after Ian Jack, a friend for many years, came into my office one day to interview me for an article on Glasgow for the Sunday Times magazine. During the course of conversation I got a bit carried away and expressed myself with some emphasis. When Ian's article appeared he quoted me as saying, "Look, son. Ah've seen Nice, Cannes, the Costa del Sol, Italy. Take away the sunshine and you're left with fuck all." My friend John MacCalman of the Herald followed up the magazine piece and sought comments from Jean McFadden and others. The Herald headline read CITY FATHERS DEFEND THEIR ROUGH DIAMOND. Jean told him, "Ian Jack has done the dirty on Harry Diamond. The article doesn't reflect the Harry Diamond I speak to." The Lord Provost, Bob Gray, with whom I had also had differences of opinion over the years, said, "If Mr Diamond used these expressions it only goes to show the enthusiasm he has developed for the city. It was his enthusiasm that carried him away." Even the Tory group leader Iain Dyer told MacCalman, "I just do not recognise the language attributed to him." My response quoted in the Herald was rather pompous, "My vocabulary is of sufficient range, power and subtlety to obviate the necesssity to communicate my thoughts in the type of language that is unacceptable in polite society." Ian later wrote to me apologising for the offending paragraph and I told him I wasn't really worried about an occasional colourful quote.

Interestingly, while the controversy raged over my language a surgeon phoned to congratulate me on my defence of Glasgow and added, "I'm glad there are no reporters in operating theatres. Some of the language we use when things are not going too well would strip the paint off the walls!"