Scottish Election 2021: Anas Sarwar rules out deals and coalitions with other parties

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has ruled out any “deals or coalitions” with other parties in Holyrood, despite a pledge to “work with anyone” to help Scotland recover from the Covid pandemic.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has launched his party's manifesto.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has launched his party's manifesto.

Facing questions after launching his party’s manifesto, Mr Sarwar also said he would only be willing to back an SNP government budget if it was in the “national interest not the nationalist interest”.

He said building a recovery from Covid must be the next Scottish Parliament's "collective national mission" but that the election campaign had been framed by the “political bubble” about the constitution.

Asked if he would work with the other parties on a formal basis in Holyrood, he said: “There’s no deals, no coalitions, we’re standing on our own basis.

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"When I talk about working with people, it’s working with people across the country on what unites us, not divides us.

"On individual issues I have a record of working with every political party – we worked with the SNP on the Period Products Bill and the Protection of Retail Workers Bill, I worked with the Tories on scrapping the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, I worked with the Liberal Democrats on greater investment in mental health, I’ve worked with the Greens around reversing the SQA scandal, so on individual issues we should have the ability to pull our parliament and country together in the national interest.

“I oppose independence and a referendum but is that going to stop me implementing a policy around child poverty or stop me wanting to invest in the NHS or create jobs across the country? Of course not. Too many politicians in too many parties focus on the divisions, I want to focus on what unites our country. If we can't do it in a pandemic when can we?”

However Mr Sarwar said that unity did not stretch to supporting an SNP government budget which had spending on a second independence referendum.

"I don’t support independence or a referendum and I can’t comment on budgets that are not yet published.

"But if they are in the national interest and not the nationalist interest, then I will consider them on their merits. The budget just passed, we considered on its merits and we had positive negotiations with [finance minister] Kate Forbes.

"She got a cheaper deal from the Greens and social care workers paid the price for that. I will consider individual issues on their merits, but does that mean equivocating on the constitutional issue? Absolutely not.”

Just elected to the leadership of his party eight weeks ago, Mr Sarwar also admitted that criticism about his choice of sending his children to a private school was “fair” given his party’s policy was to end all public sector support for fee-paying schools, and ending their charitable status for rates relief.

Asked if he was a hypocrite for using private schools, he said: “I have been called worse than that.”

He added: “I have supported this policy ever since Kez Dugdale was leader and we included it in our manifesto, and I proudly support it now. I am open about the fair question and the fair criticism that people make around the decision that my wife and I made for our children. Every parent wants to do what is best for their children, but I want every child to have opportunity.”

He was also asked about the damage he feels private schools do to society: “I want everyone to have a quality education across the country. As I say, I’ll give you the same answer, I accept the criticism, but it was a decision that my wife and I made for our children, but I want every parent to have the best for their children.”

Challenged on whether he is practising one thing while preaching another, he said: “I accept it is a fair criticism.”

During his manifesto launch Mr Sarward said he was "calling time on the old politics" and its focus on the constitution and independence and was setting out "five distinct recovery plans" covering jobs, the NHS, education, the climate, and communities.

The party also plans to abolish council tax and replace it with a "fairer alternative based on property values and ability to pay", but a previous proposal for a wealth tax appears to have been ditched.

He also ruled out raising income tax for Scots earning less than £100,000 a year.

His party believes its proposals can be paid for with cash coming to Scotland to help deal with the pandemic – which should be £4.2 billion next year – and with the borrowing powers the Scottish Government already has.

He said: "This isn't an ordinary type of election, it is a pandemic election and too many of the other politicians and too many of the other political parties want to take us back to the old arguments.

"I don't want us to come through that collective trauma of Covid and go back to those old arguments.

"Imagine what we could achieve if we focused on what unites us a country, not what divides us. Imagine what we could achieve if we put aside those things we disagree on and focused on the things we agree on.

"Imagine if we obsessed about education in the next Parliament, imagine if we obsessed about the NHS in the next Parliament, imagine if we obsessed about jobs and economy in the next Parliament, imagine if we obsessed about eradicating child poverty, imagine if we obsessed about challenging the climate emergency. Just imagine the kind of Scotland we could build together.

"I want to work with you, my fellow Scots, so we can come through this crisis and build a stronger, fairer, more equal, more just, greener Scotland together.”

He urged voters to support Labour in both the constituency and regional list sections of the ballot, saying the list vote will be crucial in determining the priorities of the next Parliament.

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