Scottish Election 2021: Despite his personal appeal Anas Sarwar's Labour party is struggling - Gina Davidson

Eight weeks after being elected as the new Scottish Labour leader, the consensus in the polls is that Anas Sarwar is liked by voters.

His personal approval rating is up 21 percentage points since March, a rise from 18 per cent to 39 per cent of voters who believe he is doing a good job. It certainly makes a change from his predecessor Richard Leonard, who never again saw the heady heights of -15 per cent when he was box-fresh in the post.

But then he is relaxed in front of a TV camera, is humorous and understands the power of the language of empathy.

Polls also suggest that Mr Sarwar’s focus on Covid recovery rather than the constitution is what the voters want to hear and yet the ship he is attempting to captain back to calmer waters still appears to be holed below the surface.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar's personal ratings have more than doubled.

Scottish Labour is just polling around 20 per cent on both the constituency and list votes, and as a result would lose MSPs, potentially as many as five, which would see the party going backwards for the fifth Scottish Parliament election in a row.

The manifesto, which was launched on Thursday, is packed full of feel-good policies, even if there are not quite as many “freebies” as in the SNP’s. It claims that there will be no income tax rises on anyone earning less than £100,000 a year and it will spend £4.5bn on a Covid recovery plan, offering guaranteed jobs and £75 high street gift vouchers to kick start high streets across Scotland.

But of course the elephant in the room he is so keen to avoid mentioning is independence and a second referendum.

He dismisses the issue as something “of the past” and believes it should go without saying, and definitely without saying on a daily basis, that he is against both.

And yet… even he knows that this is very much an issue of the future too. He may believe Scotland cannot afford to discuss the constitution for the next five years, but that ship has sailed, with his rivals, Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross wholly tied to that mast; one claiming a proper recovery from Covid needs independence, the other that the Scottish Government needs to work ever closer with the UK government for that to happen.

Every Labour leader, no matter how personally popular, has faced the same problem since 2014 – being tossed around on stormy constitutional waters, clinging to a raft of social justice and economics, while the SNP and Tories sit happily beneath the waves submerged in their nationalistic certainties.

Mr Sarwar is no different and eight weeks is hardly any time to try to turnaround the fortunes of Scottish Labour. With a hard-headed acknowledgement he won’t be First Minister any time soon, he can only hope that the next two weeks sees a new wave of support for his party that can ensure he is not the next Labour leader sailing into the sunset.

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