Anas Sarwar is a senior Scottish Labour MSP. He was deputy leader of the party for three years and stood against Richard Leonard for the leadership in 2017. In short, he is someone worth listening to and taking seriously – particularly for those in his own party.
And yet, astonishingly, on a matter of highest concern – his allegation that a Labour councillor made a racist and Islamophobic remark – the party’s National Constitutional Committee decided not to hear what he had to say because Kafkaesque standards of bureaucracy.
According to Sarwar, he was given four days’ notice that a hearing would be held, but when he arrived to give evidence he was told he could not do so because he had not given two weeks’ notice.
After failing to hear from the accuser, the NCC unsurprisingly decided there was no case to answer. How could there be if they denied Sarwar the chance to make his case?
It is important to stress that the councillor concerned, Davie McLachlan, denies the allegation. However, whatever actually took place, the Labour party’s investigation hardly inspires confidence. To his credit, Leonard said that Sarwar’s complaints “deserve to be treated seriously”, adding that “clearly more still needs to be done” to improve the system.
For his part, McLachlan said he would never recover from the stress that the “false accuations” had caused his family. Even Sarwar sounded a note of sympathy, saying the 15 months it had taken for the process to conclude had not been fair on either of them.
But in words that some who have complained about anti-semitism within the Labour Party may recognise, Sarwar said he had been “left with the sad impression that Islamophobia is one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice”.
If there is any bright side to this, regardless of the truth of this specific case, it may be that Labour hasn’t been deliberately throwing out justified complaints about bigotry but instead doing so almost accidentally because of out-dated and flawed procedures. Given the resurgence of ‘identity’ politics, all parties must ensure they have robust disciplinary procedures that can fairly assess any claims of prejudice or they could find they are at risk of being overwhelmed by irrational hatreds once thought to have largely been consigned to history.