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Scottish Labour have a new leader. But who is Anas Sarwar?

The Scottish Labour Party has a new leader – Anas Sarwar MSP. He is the first BAME leader of a political party in Scotland. He was born in Glasgow to Pakistani Muslim parents, of which his father Mohammed was the first Muslim Member of Parliament (MP) in Westminster.


Previously, he was MP for Glasgow Central from 2010 to 2015 where he was also Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party from 2011 to 2014. After losing his seat to the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the 2015 general election, he was elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for the Glasgow region in the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election.


Anas received 61.21% of Labour Party member votes and 49.31% votes cast by affiliate supporters, while his rival Monica Lennon received 38.75% of member votes and 50.64% of affiliate votes. He was therefore elected receiving a total of 57.56%. His election comes after the immediate resignation of the former leader Richard Leonard due to criticism of poor party performance under his leadership.


In Anas’ acceptance speech, he vowed to rebuild the party so they can rebuild Scotland. The Scottish Labour Party has struggled over the last decade, trailing behind the SNP and Conservatives in both general and Scottish Parliamentary elections. He believes this stems from inhouse fighting, rather than focusing on bringing the fight to their rivals.


With the next Scottish Parliamentary elections coming up on the 6th May 2021, Scottish Labour will set out their vision for Scotland in the coming weeks. But he did give some hints into what might be included:

  • Make the case for a Covid Recovery Parliament

  • NHS restart plan

  • Catch-up plan for children

  • Set out a real vision for jobs

  • Supporting good businesses, to create good jobs

Perhaps his most important belief is on how Scottish Labour should deal with the future prospect of another Scottish Independence Referendum. He believes the party should strongly oppose another vote soon after the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather they should focus on the NHS.

Prior to his election, he set out a ‘five-point plan to take on the SNP and Conservative’s’:


Create a world-leading digital directorate

  • Use modern campaigning by running a dedicated, well-resourced digital directorate in Scottish HQ.

Provide training for activists

  • To help them spot and counter the tricks employed by the SNP and provide rapid rebuttal that takes on their record.

Listen to members

  • Labour members have a huge range of expertise and must make better use of it. Ensure that member’s voices are at the heart of creating the 2021 Scottish manifesto.

Renew Labour’s organising force

  • Investment in both traditional and digital organising.

Never shy away from our values

  • To beat the SNP and the Conservative’s, Scottish Labour have to take their arguments head on with distinct Labour values – focused on ending poverty, not returning to the divisive politics of old.

Anas has said very little about what he would do for the youth of Scotland, although awaiting the Scottish Labour Party manifesto may shed some light on this.


Matthew Esam (Policy and News Analysis Associate)


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