Only Scottish Labour offers the politics of empathy, hope, and unity – Anas Sarwar MSP

Becoming leader of a political party less than ten weeks before an election is a somewhat unusual state of affairs.

Anas Sarwar and his son Ailyan enjoy a visit to Glasgow's Maxwell Park following the announcement that the MSP is the new Scottish Labour leader (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Since being elected on Saturday, it has been a whirlwind of media requests, strategy meetings and endless phone calls.

There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that the public doesn’t see, and it isn’t possible without a team around you.

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I was incredibly fortunate during the leadership campaign to have the support of so many activists and volunteers, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them all.

I am humbled by the trust the party has placed in me.

But I know that, as a party, we have a lot of work to do to win back the trust of the Scottish people.

I have been brutally honest with our members and with the country – you haven’t had the party you deserve.

With rising injustice, inequality and division, I’m sorry we haven’t been good enough.

Anas Sarwar, left, beat Monica Lennon, right, to succeed Richard Leonard, centre, as Scottish Labour leader (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

Last night, I took that same message to a meeting of all Labour MPs.

A lot has been said and written about the so-called ‘red wall’ in north England which crumbled in the catastrophic General Election result in 2019. But the first red wall to fall was in Scotland, in 2015.

I lost my own seat in that election, so I have first-hand experience of that painful moment in our party’s history.

Following the election of Keir Starmer as our UK leader last year, our party is regaining the trust of the British people.

And nowhere is that more important than Scotland.

The path to a Labour government across the UK runs through Scotland, and I made that clear to MPs last night.

And the responsibility of rebuilding our movement in Scotland falls to me.

So never again will we have the spectacle of a senior UK frontbencher coming to Scotland and changing our policy position at an Edinburgh Fringe show.

Decisions about Scottish policy will be made by the team here in Scotland.

Yesterday, I appointed my campaign Cabinet that will set out our clear vision.

We are less than ten weeks away from a Holyrood election, and the Scottish Parliament is due to go into recess at the end of this month.

We don’t have much time to get our message to voters.

But there is huge talent in our movement and that’s why I have appointed a team that looks to the future, including both MSPs and candidates.

My colleague Monica Lennon, who I enjoyed debating with during the positive leadership campaign which concluded at the weekend, will take on the key role of our economy and fair work spokesperson.

Rebuilding the economy and protecting and creating jobs will be at the heart of our election campaign, with policies designed to get Scotland back to work.

Together, we will work hard to rebuild our party so that we have the opportunity to rebuild Scotland.

We must capture the spirit of Keir Hardie who founded our movement, of Donald Dewar who turned the dream of devolution into a reality, and Gordon Brown who led our nation’s fight against the scandal of child poverty.

I believe we can do that again, and the hard graft starts now.

As I start my first week in the job, I don’t underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead, and I will be honest about that.

We are behind in the polls. Changing leader does not fix things overnight.

This is a long-term project, which starts by making Scottish Labour relevant to people in Scotland once again.

Then we must show we are an effective, credible opposition and we can use that platform to build on, so that we become an effective, credible alternative government.

Scottish Labour will be a home for anyone who believes we should work together as a nation to recover from Covid.

For too long, politicians have presented binary choices – yes/no; leave/remain.

But our country has been through a collective trauma over the past year. And by staying apart, we have come together like never before.

So I made it clear throughout the leadership campaign that we can’t come through this and go back to the old arguments.

We can’t return to 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.

So unlike the SNP and Tories, Scottish Labour won’t focus on division; we will make the case for a ‘Covid Recovery Parliament’.

We won’t engage in the Conservatives’ playground politics while people are losing their lives and livelihoods.

Instead, we will put forward an NHS restart plan so that we never again have to choose between treating a virus or treating cancer.

We will set out a catch-up plan for our children because we 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. We will offer the politics of empathy, of hope, and of unity.

You don’t see enough of that in Scotland, and if the Labour party is not going to deliver that, then I don’t know who else is.

So if you’re worried about your child’s education or mental health, a cancelled operation or cancer diagnosis, or the planet we’re leaving for our children and our grandchildren, we’re on your side.

The task ahead of us is tough, but I believe that by working together there is nothing we cannot achieve.

The Scottish Labour Party I lead will focus on what unites our country – not what divides it.

Anas Sarwar is Scottish Labour leader and an MSP for Glasgow

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