Sarwar calls for reform and devolution of Labour’s disciplinary process

Anas Sarwar, who ran against Richard Leonard in the 2017 Scottish leadership contest, has branded Labour’s disciplinary process “not fit for purpose”.

The MSP for Glasgow claims that the party process for dealing with complaints “leaves the impression that Islamophobia is one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice”.

He has also called for devolution of the process, which would see complaints made by Labour members in Scotland dealt with in Scotland.

In a lengthy statement released this morning, Sarwar describes his experience of a national constitutional committee (NCC) hearing held on Monday in Glasgow.

According to the MSP, a case against a council group leader was dismissed due to a lack of verbal evidence, which Sarwar was willing and available to provide.

He says he was not allowed to offer the evidence as he hadn’t given two weeks’ notice, yet Sarwar claims that he was only informed of the hearing four days prior.

Below is the full statement issued by Anas Sarwar MSP.

Having dedicated the last ten years of my life on the frontline for the Scottish Labour Party, I am left feeling deeply hurt and demoralised by the need to make this statement.

Just five days ago I was expressing my delight that we had secured the support of political parties in Scotland for the adoption of the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s definition of Islamophobia. It was a landmark moment which demonstrated that Scotland was leading the way in the fight against Islamophobia. I am therefore devastated that it is my own party, the party of equality and with a proud anti-racist tradition, that has failed at the first test.

When I made the decision in January 2018 to launch the campaign against everyday racism and Islamophobia and set up the Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia, I felt it was important to share my own experiences. As I said at the time, this was the most difficult decision that I had ever made in politics as it was the first time I was talking so openly about my own race and religion and highlighting my own difference. But I felt it was important to do that as it would hopefully encourage others to do the same, and through that open dialogue we could spark a national debate about everyday prejudice and how we could confront it.

One of the examples I gave was of a council group leader telling me that ‘Scotland wouldn’t vote for a brown, Muslim Paki’. I didn’t disclose the name of the councillor in my interview. The Labour Party insisted that I disclose the name of the individual so that it could take action. I received many calls and emails encouraging me to do this including from the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Deputy Leader, Lesley Laird, and from the Scottish General Secretary, Brian Roy.

I disclosed the name to them and stressed at the time that this was not about any one individual or about one party, but about challenging a culture that was impacting people in playgrounds, college and university campuses and workplaces across the country.

After 15 months of little or no communication or updates, I was notified by the Labour Party late in the afternoon last Thursday that the NCC hearing would be on Monday, April 29, at 11am – just four days later. I was asked if I could make myself available as a witness. I emailed back expressing my disappointment at the short notice and asking a number of questions about the process. I got a response back at 8.30am on Monday morning and all the relevant paperwork sent to me just before 9am for a hearing that was due to start at 11am. When I arrived at the hearing I was informed by an NCC representative that I could not give evidence as I had not given the committee two weeks’ notice of my intention to appear as a witness. I was asked to leave and was unable to provide any evidence. The UK Labour NCC panel subsequently ruled that there was no case to answer without any verbal evidence being taken.

Given what I read in the paperwork that was produced for the NCC hearing and my experiences since raising this case and the circumstances of the NCC hearing day itself, I am left with the sad impression that Islamophobia is one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice.

It is important that disciplinary processes are fair and transparent. But it’s now clear that the Labour Party’s disciplinary process is deeply flawed and not fit for purpose. It is not fair on either the complainant or the accused for the process to last 15 months. It is not transparent if witnesses are not adequately informed and then barred from providing evidence.

The UK Labour Party needs to provide a full explanation on its handling of this case, but more importantly it needs to understand the message that this sends about the party’s commitment to tackling Islamophobia and all forms of prejudice.

It is ludicrous that complaints made in Scotland aren’t dealt with in Scotland. The Scottish Labour Party should be demanding that disciplinary matters are fully devolved to ensure that cases are dealt with efficiently, quickly and fairly here in Scotland.

If even I, as a former deputy leader, interim leader, leadership candidate and Shadow Cabinet member, don’t believe I can get a fair hearing or adequate support from an institution like the Labour Party, then I am left wondering what chance those experiencing discrimination in other walks of life have. This is why the work of the CPG and the campaign against racism and Islamophobia matters so much to me. This is painful, difficult, tiring, and at times lonely, but I feel a responsibility to keep going. I am very grateful for the messages of support I have received from colleagues and friends in the past 24 hours. I ask for your continued support and encouragement, because this is a fight for all of us.

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