Appreciation: Liz Drummond, former Scottish Office director of information

Liz Drummond, former head of the Scottish Office press office. Picture: TSPL
Liz Drummond, former head of the Scottish Office press office. Picture: TSPL
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Liz Drummond was a generous, clever and enlightened woman who gave almost all of her professional life and much of her personal life to public service.

Her career in the civil service culminated in five years at the helm of government communications in Scotland, as director of information in the pre-devolution Scottish Office, and she followed that with almost 20 years’ work with Citizens’ Advice Scotland. Whether she was working with senior politicians or the poorest in society, Liz demonstrated commitment, common sense and compassion.

Liz was born in Kilwinning in 1947, the younger daughter of Tom and Sadie McKillop. Her formative years were spent in the seaside town of Rhyl in north Wales. Tom McKillop played football for Rangers and Scotland, and Liz inherited at least some of his sporting prowess, competing in netball and athletics at county level. Rhyl might be a small town but it’s just 60 miles from Liverpool and with her typical enthusiasm Liz was the driving force behind trips from the local grammar school to see the Beatles in the place where it all began for the Fab Four: the Cavern Club.

Her interest in sport and music was in addition to her academic excellence; and aged just 17, Liz left Rhyl for London to take up a place at the London School of Economics, a typically brave decision.

The LSE had a radical reputation in the 1960s and was the site of major student protests, intense political debates and radical, non-conformist views. While Liz had mixed feelings about her experience at the LSE, she retained throughout her life a zest for debate (and the occasional argument!) and strong, but not always predictable, opinions.

Liz left the LSE with a degree in economics, helping her secure her first job, at City of London firm Lazards. This in itself is testament to her academic accomplishments and strength of personality: in those days, opportunities for young women in the City were few and far between.

It was not, however, where Liz wanted to make a career and her interest in public affairs led her to the Government Information Service. This put her at the heart of the relationship between UK government ministers and the media they sometimes courted and sometimes held in contempt. As a civil servant, she was politically neutral but had to manage the communication of politically-sensitive issues for Conservative and Labour ministers alike.

Liz’s career took her from great departments of state, like the Home Office, to the heart of government itself, 10 Downing Street. There she worked for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and worked with press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham. In his memoirs, Kill The Messenger, Ingham makes clear his regard for Liz, describing her as “forthright” (quite an accolade from a man with his reputation) and records his gratitude for her part, and that of their colleagues, in the Downing Street Press Office during the Falklands Conflict.

Just as she left north Wales for London in the 1960s, Liz showed she had lost none of her drive to take on a new challenge in the 1990s. Friends say her dream job was that of director of information at the Scottish Office, and in 1992 she secured it.

Before the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Office had a wide range of policy and public service responsibilities and Liz was responsible for all of its communications. Her role was as sensitive as it was high profile: at that time, the Conservatives had a House of Commons majority across the UK but just 11 out of 72 seats in Scotland.

During her time at the Scottish Office, and with her customary professionalism, Liz oversaw communications on major policy change, such as the last reform of local government in Scotland, and was part of the government team that responded to one of the grimmest days in Scottish history: the Dunblane shootings.

The 1997 election signalled not just a change of government, but a change of government style. While directors of information always worked on politically-sensitive issues, it was clear that the then Labour government expected much more political involvement in government communications issues. As Liz later told the BBC, there was pressure to undertake a different type of news management. She was one of a number of directors of information who agreed it was time to leave the civil service and take early retirement.

For Liz, it certainly was early retirement, and the easy option would have been to draw on her government experience and become a well-paid public relations adviser in the private sector. But, as moving to London in the 1960s and Edinburgh in the 1990s showed, she rarely chose the easy option. In 1998 she joined Citizens’ Advice Scotland in Portobello, first as a general adviser and then as a benefit appeals specialist.

In this role, Liz provided direct and practical support for people with major financial, social and emotional problems.

Liz made a difference to people’s lives in other ways. To everyone who knew her, she conveyed a zest for life, enjoying to the full travel, food, wine, gardening, theatre, opera, music, literature and sport. She was generous with her time, her hospitality and her gifts, from plants to Christmas puddings. Her extraordinary range of interests and her clever mind gave her the most formidable general knowledge that, amongst other things, took her very close to the final of the BBC’s Brain of Britain.

Over the years, Liz dealt with ill-health in a typically practical and no-nonsense way. Even during her final illness, she retained her interest in and passion for the world at large, anxious to make sure a proxy vote could be cast on her behalf in the EU referendum.

Liz died in Edinburgh, her home for the last 24 years. She was a much-loved sister and sister-in-law to Sadie and Mike, aunt and great aunt, cousin, godmother and friend.

She was a remarkable person in their lives and those of many others – and while it was too short, hers was a life well lived.