Anas Sarwar plays down Labour leadership concerns

Anas Sarwar has already ruled himself out of the race for the leadership of the Scottish Labour party. Picture: TSPL

Anas Sarwar has already ruled himself out of the race for the leadership of the Scottish Labour party. Picture: TSPL

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THERE is no obstacle to two male MPs emerging as leader and deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party, according to interim leader Anas Sarwar.

Mr Sarwar, who represents Glasgow Central at Westminster, has ruled himself out of the leadership contest but said he intends to continue as deputy leader.

East Renfrewshire MP Jim Murphy is reportedly preparing to launch his leadership bid in the coming days, with MSP Neil Findlay tipped to stand against him.

The prospect of two MPs leading the party has already caused concern among some members following former leader Johann Lamont’s parting shot that MPs treat Scottish Labour like a “branch office” of the UK party.

Labour peer and former MSP George Foulkes said one of the leadership team has to be an MSP, a call which was supported by former Scottish health secretary Andy Kerr and former MSP Pauline McNeill.

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However, shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex MP said appointing an MP to lead Scottish Labour is “not an insurmountable hurdle”.

Scottish Labour is working to increase female representation in the party, pairing constituencies to field one male and one female candidate in future elections.

Mr Sarwar told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that he can “absolutely” carry on as deputy leader if another male MP emerges to lead the party.

“Our identification isn’t to Westminster,” he said.

“We live in Scotland, our families are in Scotland, we stand in Scotland, we represent Scottish constituencies and Scottish Labour is what is on our ballot paper - not Westminster.

“We are Scottish Labour politicians who want to take power away from Westminster and give power to people.”

He dismissed Ms Lamont’s concerns that Scottish Labour general secretary Ian Price was removed by the UK party without her knowledge, insisting Mr Price “resigned”.

He confirmed his intention to remain as deputy on STV’s Scotland Tonight last night.

“We changed the rules in 2011 as part of our review process to say that anyone from any parliament, whether that was an MP, MSP or an MEP, could put themselves forward to be the leader or deputy leader as long as they committed to be the candidate for First Minister at the next Scottish Parliament elections,” he said.

He challenged Edinburgh MSP Malcolm Chisholm’s claim that appointing an MP as leader would “turn a crisis into a catastrophe”.

“I disagree with the principle of that because it’s absolutely clear Alex Salmond did the job when he was an MP and became First Minister,” he said.

Anas Sarwar rules out Scottish Labour leader bid

Mr Greatrex told BBC Radio Scotland today: “I don’t think it’s an insurmountable hurdle.

“I think the most important thing is that there is a commitment from the person who is the leader to work hard to focus on the issues that matter to lead the two campaigns that they have got in the next 18 months.

“So, I think where they happen to be, which parliament they sit in in the short-term, I don’t think is too much of an issue.”

Lord Foulkes said it “doesn’t matter” whether the leader is an MP or MSP but said “one of the leadership team has to be an MSP, there is no doubt about that”.

“There has to be someone in there tackling the First Minister and tackling her well,” he told STV.

He added: “We need to get the right structure.

“I’m in favour of a separate Scottish party as part of a federal Labour party, if that’s agreed, but we’ve got responsibilities if we do that and we have got to raise the money in Scotland. There’s too much blaming London.”

Ms McNeill said: “The deputy cannot come from the same parliament, that is obvious to everyone.”

Mr Kerr said: “You cannot have the leader and the deputy from the same parliament.”

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