Interview: Scottish Labour's Anas Sarwar bids to turn 'likeability into electability'

For Anas Sarwar, next month’s local elections are partly about demonstrating his party is on the up.

There is a sense of optimism around the Scottish Labour leader that was neatly reflected in a sunny visit to Loch Lomond Shores on Monday.

Nervous staffers watched as Mr Sarwar and his deputy Jackie Baillie clambered on to a pedalo and later posed with a golden eagle at the nearby Bird of Prey Centre.

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After the significant losses of recent years, polling suggests Labour could be poised to overtake the Tories and regain second place in Scottish politics.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and deputy leader Jackie Baillie have a go on a pedalo. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Mr Sarwar insists he is not complacent.

"I recognise that we've got a long, hard path,” he told The Scotsman.

"I think people can see that we are making positive progress around getting credibility back for the Labour Party, actually building an organisation that's fit for purpose for the 21st century.

"And I want to demonstrate progress in this election campaign, and demonstrate that we are moving forward."

Political editor Alistair Grant interviewing Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar

He added: "I think we have built likeability. The challenge is now to turn that into electability."

Mr Sarwar is scathing about the SNP’s record in power.

Nicola Sturgeon’s party recently embarked on a 21-day “cost-of-living” tour of Scotland ahead of the elections on May 5.

"I look forward to Nicola Sturgeon touring the country, community by community, telling them how much she has cut from their budgets, how much she has decimated their communities, how much she has withdrawn from their schools, how much she's cut back the local NHS services, how much she's withdrawn from the cleansing budgets, how much she's withdrawn from the local play parks, all the promises that she made that she's failed to deliver,” Mr Sarwar said.

"Nicola Sturgeon can spend as much money as she likes on the tour bus – the reality is she's not putting enough money back into people's pockets in the cost of living crisis, and that's what people I think ultimately will judge them on."

The Scottish Labour leader accused Ms Sturgeon’s administration of being "out of energy, out of ideas, and I hope soon out of time”.

He said both the UK and Scottish governments are failing Scotland.

Mr Sarwar has ruled out formal council coalitions, but accepts “on individual issues you will need to seek to find agreement”.

Elsewhere, his party could soon find itself playing a key role in scrutinising the so-called ferries fiasco.

The troubled bid to be build two CalMac ferries at Ferguson shipyard in Port Glasgow is widely expected to be investigated by Holyrood’s public audit committee, which is chaired by former Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard.

Over the weekend, Ms Sturgeon said the public knows everything there is to know about the debacle.

"I don't know whether Nicola Sturgeon's comments are a reflection of her arrogance or whether it's a reflection of the fact that they think they can dupe the electorate and get away with it,” Mr Sarwar said.

"I think it's very clear that this has been an absolute fiasco. I think it's very clear that there has been a misuse of public funds

"I think it's very clear that there was a political motive behind a lot of the decision-making, and the more light and transparency we can put on this the better.”

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