Scottish Labour conference: Anas Sarwar urges SNP voters to return to Labour to kick out Boris Johnson

Anas Sarwar has launched Scottish Labour’s charm offensive on disaffected SNP and Tory voters in front of party members in Glasgow.

In his first speech at conference, the Scottish Labour leader on Friday appealed to voters who have deserted his party over the past 15 years to return to kick Boris Johnson out of Downing Street.

He also set out his vision for a refreshed and rebranded Scottish Labour, including a move towards more pro-business economic policy.

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar speaking during the Scottish Labour conference at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar speaking during the Scottish Labour conference at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar speaking during the Scottish Labour conference at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
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During the hour-long speech at the Royal Concert Hall, Mr Sarwar also announced pledges to implement ‘Milly’s Law’, which would give more rights to families of victims of scandals such as Hillsborough, and launched the party’s £1.3 billion promise to provide free residential care to all over-65s in Scotland.

It also came alongside a rebrand of Scottish Labour’s logo and branding, switching from a red rose to a thistle, and ditching the solid red background for a red and purple gradient.

Mr Sarwar spoke of a “culture of defeatism” within the party, adding that “winning matters” and “we are not a debating society”.

He said the change of logo would not “change the way a single person votes”, but added: "But changing our mindset and changing a culture of our party does.

"It’s not enough that the Tories deserve to lose, it’s not enough that the SNP deserve to lose.

"We have to prove to the people of Scotland that we deserve to win.”

In a renewed pitch to the business community of Scotland, Mr Sarwar also criticised the historical lack of focus from Labour and Holyrood on economics.

He said: “For too long we have had an economics-free debate in Scotland.

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"We must change the culture of our economy, drive innovation and renewal, and help create and new generation of entrepreneurs.

"Let me state this loud and clear – under my leadership, Scottish Labour will be an unashamedly pro-business, pro-growth and pro-jobs party.”

Mr Sarwar also used the speech to attack the SNP for accusing critics of “talking Scotland down” and said the country’s politics was “broken” and must be rejected.

He said: "Now there are some who will tell us that we are talking Scotland down if we challenge these failings in our health system or expose our broken politics.

"They couldn’t be more wrong. Only a party that thinks our nation can’t be better, and our people don’t deserve better, would say that."

The Scottish Labour leader continued: “We need to stop doing politics the way our opponents do it – pitting Scot against Scot, Yes against No, Remain against Leave, Holyrood against Westminster.

"An obsession with the politics of the past, with no real answers for the future. That approach is out of touch, and they are out of ideas.

"The best hope, the only hope, of building the future Scotland deserves is Scotland’s Labour Party.”

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The Scottish Labour leader also warned the current generation would have failed if his future grandchildren experience racism.

Mr Sarwar said tackling hate and prejudice “must be a fight for all of us”, as he used his first party conference speech as leader to describe how he went to bed crying when his son first experienced racism.

The son of Mohammad Sarwar – the UK’s first Muslim and Scotland’s first ethnic minority MP – Mr Sarwar said politics must change or the next generation “will grow up in a more hate-filled and more divided world than we grew up in”.

Declaring that “silence is no longer an option”, Mr Sarwar said: “We can’t leave the fight against any form of prejudice to any individual community.”

Recounting a story of how his son “discovered racism” when children would not pass to him while playing football “because he was the only P*** in the team”, Mr Sarwar said fighting hate and prejudice must be everyone’s mission.

The Scottish Labour leader said: “When Adam is my age, and if he has a son or a daughter, and if they tell him that same story, this generation – our generation – will have failed.

“I’m not willing to let that happen, we cannot let that happen – not to any child in Scotland.

In a bid aimed at SNP voters keen to see the end of the Prime Minister, Mr Sarwar said Labour offered the only route to a change of Prime Minister.

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Labelling the Conservative leader a “lying charlatan”, he added “Scotland deserves better”, echoing language from the 2021 Holyrood election campaign.

In a pitch to unionists in Scotland, Mr Sarwar also claimed the Conservatives were a “gift” to the SNP, adding “they are the biggest threat to the future of the United Kingdom”.

Scottish Conservative MSP Sharon Dowey said Mr Sarwar was “not making the case for the Union” and appealing to nationalist voters.

She said: “They’re ashamed of their past as a once-great pro-UK party. They’re ashamed of the success of Better Together. They’ve dropped the unionist rose from their logo.

“Labour won’t go anywhere in the future while they keep working with the SNP and sitting on the fence over Scotland's future.”

Earlier during the conference, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary announced measures to root out Russian money in the UK in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Ian Murray, who is Scotland’s only Labour MP, said the Economic Crime Bill should be amended to apply retrospectively to 2004 in Scotland to match England and Wales.

He also said more should be done to tackle opaque Scottish Limited Partnerships, which can be used to shield ownership details.

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Mr Murray told members: “But as it stands, although the Bill will apply retrospectively in England and Wales to 2004, it will only apply from 2014 in Scotland.

“That means if you’ve been found to have laundered Russian money in Scotland, but had the good fortune to do so before 2014, you’ll be untouched.”

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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