Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar denies misleading voters over council coalitions as Nicola Sturgeon tells him to 'own it'

Anas Sarwar said it was “frankly ridiculous” to suggest Scottish Labour had entered coalitions in all but name as Nicola Sturgeon says he “would be better owning it”.

The Scottish Labour leader denied during a trip to Hamilton that he was playing “a game of semantics”, saying he made it “absolutely clear” there will be no formal coalitions with the SNP and Tories.

However, the First Minister has said the denial makes the Labour leader “seem shifty” and “gives the impression he thinks voters are daft”.

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Previously, both Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Mr Sarwar said Labour would not form any coalitions with any party on a local and national level.

Areas such as Fife, South Lanarkshire and Stirling have seen minority Labour administrations formed due to support from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Independents.

In Fife, the SNP has accused Labour of “trampling on democracy” after the party took control despite winning just 20 seats, compared to the SNP’s 34.

The SNP criticised Labour for doing “backhand deals” with the Tories, with SNP MSP Clare Haughey tweeting: “Vote Labour, get Tories.”

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Scottish Labour LeaAnas Sarwar denies misleading voter over council coalitions as he visits South Lanarkshire Council in Hamilton on Friday.

During a visit to South Lanarkshire Council, Mr Sarwar said the SNP-turned-Labour administration there was a “great step forward” for his party.

The Labour leader said the “bleeting” from the SNP over Labour’s minority administrations showed “their sheer arrogance”.

Mr Sarwar said the SNP “need to get over the fact they don’t rule all parts of Scotland”.

In South Lanarkshire, Labour was able to take control of the council with thanks to the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives – despite the SNP getting the most votes in the area.

Mr Sarwar defended his stance on no coalitions, saying it was important to find agreement between individual political parties on certain issues that “work for the benefit of local communities”.

Asked by The Scotsman if he misled voters on coalitions through a game of semantics, Mr Sarwar said: “It’s not a game of semantics at all. I was clear before the elections – no coalitions with the SNP and the Tories.

"I made it very clear we would seek to elect as many Labour councillors as possible, I made it very clear we would seek to form Labour minority administrations and that we would seek on individual issues to work with individual councillors and individual political parties on issues of agreement over the course of the next five years.

"There’s no misleading at all. If the SNP don’t understand the electoral system, that’s a problem for the SNP. If people want to try and misconstrue what was said before the election, that’s up to them.”

He added: "It’s perfectly reasonable and rational like they [the SNP] have sought to do in local authorities to form minority administrations and for Labour to do the same. "

Mr Sarwar said his party had “sought to maximise” the amount of councillors, saying they would seek to form minority Labour administrations.

Responding to Mr Sarwar’s denial of coalitions, Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “Anas would be better just owning it.

"Denying what people can see with their own eyes – ie Lab administrations that are only possible with Tory support – makes him seem shifty and gives impression he thinks voters are daft…which just compounds the strategic political error.”

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