Scottish election 2021: Scottish Labour is making a big offer to SNP to work together on Covid recovery – Anas Sarwar

From the day I was elected Scottish Labour leader, just ten weeks ago, I said the focus of our politics must be the national recovery.

By the time we came to election day, every single party agreed with us.

This week, new MSPs are entering Parliament for the first time, before we are all sworn in on Thursday. Party politics aside, there are so many historic firsts to celebrate.

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My amazing Glasgow colleague Pam Duncan-Glancy is the first-ever permanent wheelchair user to become an MSP. And in Edinburgh my colleague Foysol Choudhury has become the first Bangladeshi-origin MSP.

It’s long overdue, but I’m absolutely delighted that Holyrood now has two women of colour as parliamentarians – the SNP’s Kaukab Stewart and the Tories’ Pam Gosal, who is also the first-ever Sikh MSP.

Finally, our parliament more closely resembles our nation – even if there is more work to do.

And we can also celebrate the high turnout this election, demonstrating the importance of our devolved parliament to the people of Scotland.

On the Labour benches, every single MSP was elected on a promise to prioritise national recovery, and that is precisely what we will do.

The vaccination programme means the country is, hopefully, through the immediate public health emergency (Picture: Michael Gillen)

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We will work with any party to make that happen, and present a credible alternative to the people of Scotland.

Our country’s recovery will take time. Thanks to a successful vaccination programme, we are – hopefully – through the immediate public health emergency in this country.

But the crisis is far from over; not even close.

There are 360,000 Scots who don’t know if they have a job to go back to when furlough ends later this year.

We have suffered an economic crash harder and deeper than the banking crisis, and just remember how long it took us to recover from that.

Our health service has been left with a catastrophic backlog of cases, which must be prioritised.

A generation of children have had their schooling disrupted; and the climate emergency continues.

That’s why this parliament must focus on national recovery. And we can’t delay – let’s get back to work and get on with the job of recovery.

In the dying days of this campaign, that’s what Nicola Sturgeon promised too – and we will hold her to that.

I congratulate her and the SNP on their victory in this election.

But it is important to recognise that we have a balanced parliament, with no majority for one single party, which means we must work together between parties.

Nicola Sturgeon can’t lead an independence movement for half the country and try to lead a national recovery for everyone. That is just not credible.

We need a First Minister for everyone in Scotland.

That’s why I am making an open offer, and a big offer, to the SNP.

Yes, we will disagree on the issue of the constitution, but we cannot allow that one issue we disagree on to paralyse our politics and stop us making positive progress together.

If SNP ministers are true to their word about wanting to build a recovery, if they are true to their word that they wanted to come through this most difficult year and build a stronger, fairer, greener nation, then we will work with them and every other political party to achieve that.

Inevitably, there has already been a focus on what the election result means for a future independence referendum.

It is dominating the TV news bulletins and the newspaper front pages. I understand the media’s interest, but in parliament we have a choice.

We can choose to focus on an issue which divides the country in half, or we choose to focus on recovery. I choose the latter.

And I will push the government to be more ambitious on its recovery plan.

More ambitious on its jobs plan so that our young people have the guarantee of work with the biggest and boldest job creation scheme in the history of our parliament.

More ambitious on clearing the cancer backlog, so that fewer people have to suffer the anguish of waiting for treatment.

And more ambitious on a comeback plan for schools, so that children do not suffer long-lasting consequences from the lockdowns.

We face many difficult years ahead of us and we should put all the resources and efforts of government into that – not into a game of brinkmanship between Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson.

In the run-up to this election, the Tories ran a reckless campaign that actually pushed some voters towards the SNP and nearly handed them the majority it craved.

By talking only about the constitution and the arguments of the past, with no ideas for the future, Douglas Ross was a gift for Nicola Sturgeon.

And while Boris Johnson may have stayed away from this campaign, we know his thoughts on devolution.

If he truly cares about the future of the UK, he will finally embrace devolution and reset relationships with the devolved administrations across the country.

The Tories can only ever be an opposition to the SNP; I want to build the alternative to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

We will focus on what unites us, not what divides us. We are on a journey and this is just the start.

Having made progress in just ten weeks, we will focus on providing an alternative that puts the NHS first, jobs first, schools first, the climate first and communities first.

That is what we were elected to do, and the job starts now. If you want to be part of the alternative, join us on this journey.

Anas Sarwar is Scottish Labour leader

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