Anas Sarwar attempts to put Scottish Labour on new course

ANAS Sarwar has attempted to set a new course for Scottish Labour, saying it has to shake off its “culture of defeatism” and be “unashamedly pro-business”.

In his main address to his party conference in Glasgow, he told delegates that Scottish Labour had to look to the future to regain power, not bathe in nostalgia.

Drawing a sharp line between his leadership and that of his failed left-wing predecessor Richard Leonard, Mr Sarwar said: “Winning matters. We are not a debating society.”

He appealed to former Labour voters who had loaned their vote to the Tories in the 2019 general election, urging them to return to the fold to help Sir Keir Starmer replace Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

Mr Sarwar also made a heartfelt plea to eliminate prejudice and bigotry from Scotland.

However he raised eyebrows by omitting mention of sectarianism just as the party was under fire for selecting a former leader of the Orange Order in Scotland as a candidate.

Henry Dunbar, who was also a leader of the Order worldwide until recently, will stand in the Airdrie North ward of North Lanarkshire Council in May’s local elections.

Althoiugh the Order insists it is a Protestant fraternity whose members are united by faith, it is seen by some as hostile to Catholics.

Mr Sarwar’s hour-long speech to 500 delegates was big on his personal backstory but light on policy, with only two major new announcements, both heavily trailed.

He said Labour would introduce a ‘Milly’s Law’ at Holyrood to give bereaved families more rights and powers, named after 10-year-old leukaemia patient Milly Main who died after contracting an infection in Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Children in 2017.

He also announced a plan to give free residential care to everyone over the age of 65 if they need it, part of a £1.3billion package of care reforms to be funded by money due to  Holyrood from the Treasury under the Barnett formula.

“This will be the single greatest reform of the care service since the introduction of free personal care,” he said.

“We don’t have to wait until 2026 [the next Holyrood election], we can take steps right now to set us on track for all care in Scotland to be free at the point of need, delivering a health and care system which people can rely on their whole lives.

“A social care service based on NHS principles. That’s our politics – Labour politics – building the health and social care system of the future.”

Despite a lack of specifics, the speech was well received by activists, as Mr Sarwar, standing behind a sign saying ‘Future’, held out the prospect of a return to power.  

He said: “We must start winning again. I’ll tell you the culture I want to change in the Labour Party. It is the culture of defeatism. 

“Conference, winning matters. We aren’t a debating society. 

“We don’t come to events like this just to talk about the issues we care about.  

“We don’t change people’s lives by just debating the big issues.

“We only actually get to deliver on our values, only get to implement our ideas, and only get to change people’s lives if we win. 

“And we won’t win by talking to ourselves, about ourselves, or living off our past.  

“To win again we must embrace and own the future, not the past. 

“We must focus on what we will achieve when we return to government. 

“To win again, we must change again.”

Referring to Scottish Labour’s rebranding exercise this week, with its traditional rose logo replaced by a thistle, he said: “Now I know that changing a logo, as we have done today, doesn’t change the way a single person votes.  

“But changing our mindset, and changing the culture of our party, does. 

“It’s not enough that the Tories deserve to lose. It’s not enough that the SNP deserve to lose. 

“We have to prove to the people of Scotland that we deserve to win. 

“That’s why we need new ideas and new thinking.”

Looking ahead to the general election due by 2024, he said: “I say directly to people who may not have voted for us in the last three General Elections – maybe you voted for the SNP to send the Tories a message.  

“When the next election comes, if you want to get rid of the Tories, the only way – the only way – to do that is by voting Labour.”  

Turning to the local elections in May, he went on: “Every time the SNP fail, they point to the Tories and say at least we’re not as bad as that lot over there. Frankly Scotland deserves better than a government which aspires to be a wee bitty better than Boris Johnson’s Tories. 

“The truth is that Boris Johnson and the Tories are a gift to the SNP.  

“That’s what they are the biggest threat to the future of the United Kingdom. 

“So I say directly to people who may have held their nose and voted Tory because you thought it was the best way to preserve the UK.  

“Boris Johnson has let you down.  He has let the United Kingdom down. 

“On May 5th, don’t reward him with your vote. Help Labour kick him and the SNP out.”

He said there should be more focus on economics in political debate.

Scotland needed a “revamped and future-proofed education system that reflects the needs of our children so they are ready for tomorrow’s world,” he said.

“Labour has always been – and always will be – the party of workers. But the future of work will look dramatically different to the jobs of the past. 

“We must change the culture of our economy, drive innovation and renewal, and help create a new generation of entrepreneurs. 

“So let me state this loud and clear: under my leadership, Scottish Labour will be an unashamedly pro-business, pro-growth and pro-jobs party. 

“We need to create an environment where good businesses can thrive, pay their fair share in taxes, and help to unlock the potential of all the people in Scotland.”

However that message is unlikely to go down well with the left of the party.

Earlier, Glasgow councillor Matt Kerr was applauded when he said the cost of living crisis was not about fuel bills but landlordism and private monopoly.

“The crisis, comrades, is capitalism and it is our job to challenge it at every single turn.’ 

The Scottish Tories criticised Mr Sarwar’s speech for not defending the Union.

MSP Sharon Dowey said: “In all those words, Anas Sarwar didn’t manage to say anything positive about the future of the United Kingdom. He seems to be trying to appeal to nationalist voters by not making the case for the Union.

“It’s obvious why Labour want to try to talk about the future and forget their past. They’ve lost votes in every Holyrood election. Last year they hit another new low. 

“They don’t want to talk about the fact they’ve been in coalition with the SNP in six councils across Scotland since 2017. 

“And they’re ashamed of their past as a once-great pro-UK party. They’re ashamed of the success of Better Together. They’ve dropped the unionist rose from their logo.

“Labour won’t go anywhere in the future while they keep working with the SNP and sitting on the fence over Scotland’s future.”


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