Dirty streets, tourists robbed and violence were all linked to Glasgow in the early 1980s.


Following the demise of heavy industry and the closure of the shipyards with the loss of thousands of jobs, Glasgow found itself on the edge of another reinvention, but it was recognised it had its issues to overcome before it could move forward.
Former Lord Provost of Glasgow, Dr Michael Kelly, took up the prestigious office in 1980 and faced repeated calls from the press about incidents in the city.

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“Glasgow had acquired this image as the place to go to if you wanted to talk about deprivation, football violence, religious intolerance,” said Dr Kelly. “Glasgow’s external image was a factor in holding the city back and that fact that people thought these bad things about Glasgow, it was inhibiting economic development or investment. It was a place where people didn’t particularly want to be.”

HeraldScotland: Glasgow's Miles Better campaign launched in 1983Glasgow's Miles Better campaign launched in 1983
He decided to respond differently when asked about the city and it ultimately led to him having the idea of developing a slogan for the city, drawing on inspiration from the massively successful I Love New York campaign, and it saw the birth of the Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign in 1983. From yellow bumper stickers, to a giant poster at a gasworks on the outside of the city, combined with the Mr Happy image and the catchy slogan, the campaign was a resounding success.

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Now nearly 40 years on from its launch, Dr Kelly believes it was instrumental and a driver for where Glasgow is today.
Looking back, Dr Kelly said: “When I became Lord Provost in 1980 almost immediately I was faced with the same press enquiry that every one of my predecessors for decades had faced. If the BBC did a documentary on bad housing in the UK featuring Glasgow as one of the worst examples, I was expected to defend the city’s record.
“I remember a call about Australian tourists having their money pinched in the city centre. I had to say it was an isolated incident. At least that was the traditional response. I decided to take a different track. Instead of the usual Pavlovian defensive response I looked at the facts of each case and, if the criticism was justified, I accepted that the city needed to take action to remedy the situation.”

HeraldScotland: Former Lord Provost, Dr Michael Kelly, created the campaignFormer Lord Provost, Dr Michael Kelly, created the campaign
He even suggested a partnership or link up with Liverpool, a city with a similar heritage and issues, but the then administration at the time told a Glasgow contingent that what they were proposing was a suicide pact.
“That showed me that they had written themselves off,” he added. “Glasgow had never gone down that route. Glasgow had always believed that they had something and that there was a kernel there.”
The turning point came during a trip to New York which led to a lightbulb moment.
“I saw the vigour, the tourists, people enjoying the superb sights and then I read up about New York and I found out it had deprivation much worse than Glasgow, a drug problem which was worse than Glasgow, unemployment, muggings, on any index was much worse than our city,” he added.
“So there was a dichotomy – the visitor to Manhattan didn’t see any of that. They didn’t know anything about that. They are wandering about Times Square, visiting the Statue of Liberty and saying this a fantastic place.
“I thought we really had to correct the image of Glasgow, get the facts out there, instead of defend and deny everything, but actually put it into perspective. New York tourism chiefs then came over here with a spectacular show and gave us a gift from Tiffany's. Suddenly you get this little blue box with I heart New York in it – that was the way to do. The solution to Glasgow’s problem was obvious. Promote the city’s positives. Put the negatives into perspective. Get the opinion formers to come to Glasgow. I needed to draw attention to Glasgow’s many positives. It was easy to list them. Our Victorian architecture, our Georgian buildings, the heritage of Charles Rennie Macintosh, Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet, the Citizens Theatre. It was a long list, surely easy to promote.
“For me that was the start of it and then you think what do you want to say? I love New York didn’t say anything – whether it was good or bad or the greatest city in the world.
“They are saying they love New York – it is a great city. You don’t actually have to justify that, but I thought we had to go further.”

HeraldScotland: Glaswegians took the Mr Happy logo with prideGlaswegians took the Mr Happy logo with pride
In a piece in The Herald in 1982 Dr Kelly raised the question of how adversely Glasgow was affected by its bad image, how unfair it was and how a promotional campaign might be a way out of the problem, but there was no response. A reader competition in our then sister paper the Sunday Standard, didn’t quite bring the desired result.
It was an approach from John Struthers, of the Struthers Agency, which after a couple of attempts finally brought the result of Glasgow’s Miles Better.
“Glasgow’s Miles Better fitted the bill perfectly – it is a comparative. When you say it, it seems like a superlative – you can have the best of both worlds. When people said Glasgow is better than what? We could say a lot better than it used to be, we had cleaned up buildings, it’s miles better than a lot of other places. You had a flexibility there to expand it and you could explain it without having to defend it.”
One year on from the campaign – a London Sunday newspaper article declared Glasgow the most exciting city in the UK.
“The pendulum swung completely and that change of image I am convinced, without being able to produce the data for it, triggered new investment in Glasgow. It triggered visitors coming here,” added Dr Kelly.
“The main target of the campaign wasn’t the people of the city, however when I saw those bumper stickers when I was coming over the Kingston Bridge the week it was launched, I realised people had been desperate to articulate their pride in the city. It surprised me, but it was quite clear that Glasgow needed a psychological boost and they got it and started working together. There was an inspiration. When people were coming to Glasgow, the enthusiasm they got was generated by people knowing that the city was trying to do something about itself.”
Glasgow went on to host the Garden Festival in 1988 and was the 1990 City of Culture.
“The short-term benefits were obvious,” added Dr Kelly. “As to the long term that is for other to judged. But I would ask: if it hadn’t been for Glasgow’s Miles Better would the city be hosting COP26 this November?
A version of the Glasgow slogan has emerged recently as a Twitter hashtag with #Glasgow’sMilesDirtier referring to the refuse and rat crisis in Glasgow. While Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken says the city just needs a spruce up, Dr Kelly believes that public expenditure is vital as the way out of this.
He said: “You can’t solve the problems we have got without significant public expenditure. What we don’t want to do is do a cosmetic job for November that fades away in December. It has got to be a fundamental thing. Litter has always been an issue. People have appealed to the population to be tidy and put things in bins, but it doesn’t really work. You have just got to spend money picking up what people through down. Better and more frequent refuse collections and that is down to public expenditure.”
And while Glasgow might have adopted different slogans over the past 40 years, from Glasgow – Scotland with Style to People Make Glasgow, Dr Kelly saying the 40th anniversary could be the time to bring it back. Asked if the city needs a new slogan, he said: “No, we need the old slogan.”
“We should have kept Glasgow’s Miles Better in the same way that New York kept theirs, but every Lord Provost or administration wants to do their own thing. We have had a few, but now we are back to the most trite of all: People Make Glasgow. That concept of the citizens making Glasgow is one that cities that have got nothing else to offer fall back on. Glasgow’s Miles Better is just embedded in Glaswegians' civic memory. It should never have been changed. It has never gone away. It just hasn’t been promoted so why not bring it back for the 40th anniversary.”
The Herald is currently leading A Fair Deal for Glasgow campaign which is calling on both the Scottish and UK governments to agree a new funding deal after culture and leisure services were hit hard by the pandemic. We also want to see Glasgow’s cultural assets funded appropriately.
Charitable organisation Glasgow Life, which runs culture and leisure on behalf of Glasgow City Council, lost £38 million last year due to lockdown and its estimated income for 2021/22 is around £6.4m. An agreed council funding deal will see Glasgow Life receive a guaranteed £100m for the next four years to open 90 out of its 171 venues. Without further funding, the arms-length council organisation says it cannot reopen any more venues.
Backing our campaign, Dr Kelly said: “Glasgow is built on its cultural assets. It is disgraceful the way all of cities, and particularly Glasgow, the biggest city and the most important city in terms of economic development, has been starved of cash. No one in government is prepared to explain it, because they can’t. There is no rational reason that these things should not be properly funded. They produce a return. If you wiped the assets out the return would be gone, so it is an investment. Glaswegians should be enraged about this.”