Anas Sarwar: Labour leader Keir Starmer didn't speak to me after picket line appearance despite sacking frontbencher

Sir Keir Starmer did not speak to Scottish counterpart Anas Sarwar about his decision to appear on a picket line the day after the Labour leader sacked one of his frontbenchers for the same thing.

Mr Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, described the ban on Labour frontbenchers in England appearing at picket lines as a position he understood. But he argued it was possible to be a party of government while also showing solidarity with workers.

Speaking to The Scotsman at a visit to the Fife Renewable Innovation Centre, the Glasgow MSP said he was not “shy” about his support for striking workers.

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The comments come after Sir Keir sacked his shadow transport minister, Sam Tarry, after the MP appeared on a picket line with striking RMT workers.

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Two days later, Mr Sarwar joined CWU workers on their picket line in Glasgow before Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling-up secretary, appeared alongside the same union in Wigan.

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Neither politician was sanctioned by Sir Keir.

Asked what the Labour leader said to him after he appeared on the picket line, Mr Sarwar said: “Nothing, I didn’t speak to him about it.”

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Anas Sarwar, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party visiting Fife Renewable Innovation Centre and Energy Park Fife to meet with ORE Catapult (Offshore Renewable Energy).

Mr Sarwar added: "He knows that I lead the Scottish Labour Party, he knows that I set the priorities for us in Scotland.

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"You’ll have seen that I was out supporting those on picket lines and my front bench has been out supporting those people on picket lines, I will not discourage them from that.

"I encourage them to be out there, having conversations with people on the front line.

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"You’ve got to willing to listen, and part of being out there and talking to workers is listening to them directly about the concerns they have, listening to them directly about the impact this cost-of-living crisis is having on them and their family and the service they are then able to provide, and being able to then listen to that argument and be able to take that around the negotiating table. I think that’s a very positive approach.”

Anas Sarwar pictured with CWU workers at a picket line
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Asked whether he was comfortable with the UK Labour leader’s approach to strikes and whether he would do the same if he was in Sir Keir’s position, Mr Sarwar said he believed it was possible to balance worker solidarity with wanting to be a party of government.

He said: “I can understand, Keir wants to focus on being prime minister and that is right and he wants to be in a position where he is sitting round the table with the trade union leaders to find solutions to this problem rather than just identifying the problem itself.

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"I think that approach is fine. But do I think you can balance that by also being out there showing solidarity and support with the labour and trade union movement, I have no hesitation in that at all.

"I would not be afraid to do that in opposition, I would not be afraid to do that in government either.

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"We are a party of government and we must always project ourselves as a party of government. We’ve got a lot of work to do in Scotland to get us into that position, but I’m determined to do that in advance of the next Scottish Parliament election.

"Yes, we must be a party of government, a party of power, but we’re also a party of labour and I’m not shy about that.”

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The fifth episode of the brand new limited series podcast, How to be an independent country: Scotland’s Choices, is out now.

It is available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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