Obituary: Alan Armstrong, marketing director

Born: 21 July, 1933, in Coatbridge. Died: 24 April, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 81

Alan Armstrong, convenor of the campaign to establish a Scottish Assembly, in the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh, March 1989.
Alan Armstrong, convenor of the campaign to establish a Scottish Assembly, in the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh, March 1989.

Alan Armstrong was one of the first publicity managers of the then Scottish Tourist Board (STB), aiming to create an exciting feeling for those about to visit Scotland. He was always keen to encourage potential visitors to explore the glories and attractions of Scotland and his schemes to promote Scottish tourism were always creative, inventive and far-reaching.

Armstrong had the knack of finding an angle that was both memorable and catchy – without ever being gimmicky. He had a pride in, and deep knowledge of, Scotland and what it offered the visitor.

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Armstrong cunningly blended the history and magnificence of the Highlands and the wide ranging sporting and gaming facilities with such major events as the Edinburgh Festival.

William Macleod worked with Armstrong at the STB and preserved warm and happy memories of his friend. “Alan was a real people’s person and had time for everyone,” he said.

“He had a warm and outgoing personality and a fine sense of humour – both ideal for promoting tourism. He was a genuine and exceptionally professional man and was well respected throughout the STB. I held him in great affection and esteem.”

Alan Douglas Armstrong was born in Coatbridge but his family moved to near Falkirk where he attended Falkirk Academy. He did his national service in the RAF as a radar fitter and then served in that capacity with BOAC.

For a few years he travelled widely in Africa doing casual work and in 1966 he joined the sales team of Alitalia.

Three years later he returned to Scotland to become the tourist manager for the Dunoon area. He left in 1972 to join the STB and was appointed its director of marketing in 1975. He pioneered many inspiring publicity campaigns to attract tourists to Scotland – one particularly successful was titled “Scotland, a World of Differences”.

In 1979 Armstrong led a major push to increase Scottish tourism from America. He was well aware that America was a vital market and he travelled widely in the States promoting Scotland as a principal destination and not just as an adjunct to London and Stratford-upon-Avon.

To this end Armstrong created what he described as “travel workshops” in the United States to directly sell the attractions of Scotland. The workshops were opened that year in New York and Boston.

Armstrong was also much involved in the planning of the Gathering of the Clans not only in Holyrood Park but at many other locations around Scotland. He was closely involved in the organisation and hospitality and was a considerable and enthusiastic presence throughout.

Judith Sleigh was a member of his team at the STB and recalls: “Alan was courteous to all and hard-working. He instilled in us all a deep sense of pride in our history and our heritage – which, of course, enabled us to ‘sell’ Scotland with great enthusiasm to potential visitors.”

In 1981 he left the Tourist Board to found, with his colleague at STB, Roy Stewart, MDA (Marketing and Design Agency).

Armstrong was an early member of the SNP and a firm believer in an independent Scotland. He was convenor of the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly and a member, from 1989, of the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The Convention crossed all the political and social barriers throughout Scotland and enthusiastically campaigned for Scottish devolution.

Armstrong’s knowledge of the media made him an ideal spokesman for lobbying support and he was heard to particularly good effect on Radio Forth in 1989 in a discussion with David Steel MP.

Armstrong succeeded Jim Boyack as Convenor of the Convention and worked tirelessly for a Scottish Assembly. He memorably spoke at a packed meeting in the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh – the attendance demonstrated to Armstrong the progress the Convention had made.

In 1993 Armstrong set himself a very different challenge and enrolled at Heriot Watt University and read Economics, gaining a first class degree.

He and his wife Cindy moved back to Dunoon for a few years and during this time Armstrong wrote To Restrain the Red Horse: Urgent Need for Economic Reform. It was published in 1996 and was a strident and articulate plea for a fresh and fundamental reappraisal of the worldwide economic situation.

Armstrong also contributed to the 2012 publication Unstated, Writers on Scottish Independence, which set out the case for independence in a forthright manner.

Throughout his distinguished career Armstrong promoted Scotland with flair and an elegant dash. He knew just how to pitch a project – to journalists or potential visitors – always with clarity, passion and a slice of warmth. His devotion to and pride in Scotland was further reflected in his staunch support for independence.

Alan Armstrong is survived by his wife Cindy, whom he married in 1966, and their two sons.