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New Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar vows to win back voters’ trust

© Andrew Milligan / PAAnas Sarwar after winning the Scottish Labour leadership contest

Anas Sarwar took charge of Scottish Labour yesterday and, in his first speech as leader, admitted his party had not been good enough and vowed that would change.

The MSP, elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party after winning 57.6% of the vote, said: “I want to say directly to the people of Scotland, I know Labour has a lot of work to do to win back your trust.

“Because, if we’re brutally honest, you haven’t had the Scottish Labour Party you deserve. With rising injustice, inequality and division, I’m sorry we haven’t been good enough. I will work day and night to change that, so we can build the country we all need.” The Glasgow politician defeated the party’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon, who won 42.4% of votes cast, in the two-­candidate race to take charge.

Mr Sarwar, the first person from an ethnic minority background to lead a UK party, said his election was “the greatest honour of my life”.

With just 10 weeks before May’s Holyrood election, Mr Sarwar takes the reins of a party third in the polls, with the latest Ipsos Mori survey putting Labour at 15% in the constituency vote and 14% in the regions.

In his video message, Mr Sarwar hailed iconic Labour leaders from Keir Hardie and Donald Dewar to Gordon Brown as inspirations, adding: “Our party’s history was founded on the strength of the Scottish people and that is where its future lies too.”

He said Scottish Labour must step back from never-ending arguments over independence and instead, in the forthcoming Scottish elections, make the case for a parliament of recovery after the pandemic.

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer sent his congratulations, saying: “We will fight the Scottish parliamentary elections by making the case for a socially just Scotland in a modern United Kingdom. Under his leadership, Scottish Labour will focus on what unites us – not what divides us.”

Sarwar, a former dentist, who is married to wife Furheen, and a dad of three, succeeded his father Mohammad, the UK’s first Muslim MP, in holding the Glasgow Central seat for Labour between 2010 and 2015, before becoming an MSP in 2016. He stood for the Scottish Labour leadership in 2017 but lost to Richard Leonard. His election, as the first person from an ethnic minority to lead a UK party, was a testament to Scotland, Mr Sarwar said.

“Today we have elected the first-ever ethnic minority leader of a political party in the UK.That doesn’t say something about me. That says something great about Scotland and its people. But the fight for equality is far from over.

“I’ll work with all our diverse communities in Scotland to rebuild the country we love.”

© Andrew Milligan / PA
Anas Sarwar with his four-year-old son, Aliyan

Mr Sarwar concluded: “I’m determined the Labour Party I lead will always be on your side. Because I will be a leader who focuses on what unites our country – not what divides it. Together we will build a better future for Scotland.”

Ms Lennon congratulated the new leader and thanked her campaign staff while issuing a call for party unity: “Proud to have been part of this positive leadership debate. Let’s get out there as a united team.”

In the coming weeks, Mr Sarwar said, he would lay out his vision for a “Covid recovery parliament” following the next election, which would focus on tackling the impact of Covid across society. Mr Sarwar has repeatedly voiced his opposition to another independence referendum while his opponent in the race said it was important the party did not “deny democracy”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also sent congratulations on Twitter to the new Labour leader: “Congratulations to Anas Sarwar – he (and his dad before him) and I are long-time political opponents, but I also like and rate him. That may not always be obvious in the weeks ahead as election battle is joined, so worth saying so now.”

The first speech

In his inaugural speech as leader of Scottish Labour, Anas Sarwar said health, young people, jobs and a united country are priorities

This last year has been so hard, for so many. But by staying apart, we have come together like never before.

We can’t come through this and go back to the old arguments, fighting each other while our NHS loses out on funding, our children miss out on a world-class education, and our towns and cities watch on as jobs move overseas.

Instead, we’ve got to create a better future for Scotland and we need to do that now.

That’s why in the coming weeks, we will set out our vision for Scotland. Instead of focusing on division, we will make the case for a Covid Recovery Parliament.

With an NHS restart plan at its heart, so we never again – never again – have to choose between treating a virus or treating cancer.

We will set out a catch-up plan for our children because I won’t let a generation of young people go forgotten.

And we will set out a real vision for jobs – for now, and for the future. Supporting good businesses, to create good jobs.

The task ahead of us is tough, but together there is nothing we cannot achieve.

For too long politicians have presented binary choices.

Whether it’s Yes or No, Leave or Remain, they have forced you to pick a side.

We can’t go back to those old arguments.

So I say to you directly – If you’re worried about when or if you’re going back to work, I’m on your side.

If you’re worried about your child’s education or mental health, I’m on your side.

If you’re worried about a cancelled operation or cancer diagnosis, I’m on your side.

If you’re worried about the planet we’re leaving for our children and our grandchildren, I’m on your side.

If you’re the victim of inequality or injustice, I’m on your side.

And I’m determined that the Labour Party I lead will always be on your side.

Because I will be a leader that focuses on what unites our country – not what divides it.

And together we will build a better future for Scotland.