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ANAS SARWAR: Scotland is facing new challenges. We need so much more than tired, old arguments

© Ewan Bootman/NurPhoto/ShutterstockScottish Labour Leader Anas Sarwar
Scottish Labour Leader Anas Sarwar

Anas Sarwar MSP is leader of the Scottish Labour Party

When I speak to Labour’s conference tomorrow it will be seven months to the day that I was elected leader of my party.

In that time, I’ve spoken to people across Scotland about the challenges they face in their lives – and how they are being failed by two governments.

I’ve travelled from the Borders to the Highlands and everywhere the message is clear – people feel they’ve been ignored by the SNP and the Tories.

Many of these communities know what they need – a reliable ferry service, investment in vital infrastructure or more support to keep streets clean and libraries open.

That trip confirmed to me that Scotland deserves better than the SNP.

Nowhere are the inadequacies clearer than in the Scottish parliament.

On Nicola Sturgeon’s watch, the attainment gap is widening, child poverty is growing and the waiting lists in our NHS are lengthening.

From complacency in the face of a growing NHS crisis and a shrug of the shoulders when Scottish ferry contracts disappear abroad, the SNP’s response to their failure is to return us to the arguments of the past.

As people die waiting on ambulances, they dithered before calling in the Army, but parliament finds time to debate self-congratulatory motions.

But, under questioning, it is apparent to everyone that we have a tired and rehashed agenda from a party that has clearly run out of big ideas.

No time to waste

We are up against a global pandemic, a growing healthcare crisis, a jobs crisis and a climate emergency – there is no time to waste.

But the First Minister can’t see there are ideas bigger than independence.

And to achieve that she pretends that England is Boris Johnson and Priti Patel. But she is wrong. The England I recognise is more about the England of Gareth Southgate, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford.

We have more in common than the SNP would have you believe – and our problems are best solved together.

The first problem we have to deal with is this callous, cowardly and cruel Tory government – a government willing to take £20 away from the poorest families in the UK, while handing multi-million-pound deals to their friends.

But they are not as different as Nicola Sturgeon would like to pretend.

Because, despite their attempts to pretend to be, SNP and Nicola Sturgeon aren’t Scotland.

It is the values of Donald Dewar, Gordon Brown and John Smith – great Scots who tried to build up the UK, not tear it apart.

They lifted children out of poverty across the UK, rather than spend time constructing grievance and division.

The Tories and the SNP only care about opposing each other and returning to the arguments of the past.

For both of them it is that same “us vs them” lie that pitches Scot against Scot. Or Scotland against England.

We confront this by making it clear that the biggest problems facing our society – from the healthcare emergency to climate crisis – need “all of us” solutions. And we are the only party that can deliver this future.

Not a vision of a society based on us versus them, with deeper austerity and borders between friends and families.

Where we care more about ending child poverty than we do about where a child lives.

That’s the future we can build together – an alternative to division for all of Scotland. That is the future that I want to secure. That is the alternative Scottish Labour is building.