Anas Sarwar elected as new leader of Scottish Labour Party

Sienna Rodgers

Anas Sarwar, a Labour MSP for Glasgow, ex-MP and former deputy leader, has been elected today to succeed Richard Leonard as the new leader of Scottish Labour Party, after winning 57.56% of the vote.

Sarwar secured 61.21% of party member votes and 49.31% votes cast by affiliate supporters, while rival Monica Lennon received 38.75% of member votes and 50.64% of affiliate votes.


Monica Lennon 42.44%
Anas Sarwar 57.56% – ELECTED

LabourList understands that the overall turnout was 42.44%, compared to 62.3% in 2017 and 62.58% in UK Labour’s 2020 race. It was much higher among party members (a majority voted) than affiliate members (around a quarter).

In his acceptance speech, Sarwar promised that Labour under his leadership would “focus on what unites our country – not what divides it” and that he would be “brutally honest” with the people of Scotland.

“You haven’t had the Scottish Labour Party you deserve – with rising injustice, inequality and division, I’m sorry we haven’t been good enough,” the leadership election winner said.

On becoming the first minority ethnic leader of a major political party in the UK, the Glasgow MSP remarked: “That doesn’t say something about me. That says something great about Scotland and its people.”

Sarwar concluded: “I’m determined that the Labour Party I lead will always be on your side. Because I will be a leader who focuses on what unites our country – not what divides it. And together we will build a better future for Scotland.”

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “Huge congratulations to Anas on his election as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party. I look forward to working with him to secure our economy, protect our NHS and rebuild our country.

“We will fight the Scottish parliamentary elections by making the case for a socially just Scotland in a modern United Kingdom. Under his leadership, Scottish Labour will focus on what unites us – not what divides us.

“I know Anas will do the hard work that is necessary to win back the trust of the Scottish people and build for the future as we emerge from this pandemic.“

The race was sparked when – amid criticism of the party’s performance in the polls – Leonard suddenly quit the top role with immediate effect in mid-January, just months away from Holyrood elections on May 6th.

Sarwar unsuccessfully ran for the leadership in 2017, when he was beaten by Leonard. But in the latest contest, the Glasgow MSP secured the most nominations from councillors, parliamentary colleagues and local parties.

Although he differs from Leonard and Lennon politically, describing himself as a Brownite, Sarwar told LabourList in an interview during the election that he wants “to keep the radicalism of the previous leadership”.

“I actually think our tax policies will be even more progressive and radical than even John McDonnell’s or Jeremy Corbyn’s tax policies or manifesto,” he said. “Because we have specific challenges in Scotland.

“I want us to commit hundreds of millions of pounds to tackle child poverty in Scotland, but you have to pay for it. And I think it’s only fair that we pay for it by asking those at the top to pay a bit more.”

Sarwar and Lennon disagreed over how Labour should position itself on a fresh Scottish independence referendum, with the victor believing that the party should be firmly against another vote so soon after Covid.

Lennon is opposed to independence but nonetheless argued: “If people in Scotland want a referendum – should they be able to have one? Yes, they should. It shouldn’t be a matter for Boris Johnson to decide.”

Sarwar told LabourList that the party could appeal as “the grown-ups in the room” by taking his preferred stance on independence, and revealed that he would focus on the NHS as an election campaign theme.

In a LabourList comment piece setting out his stall, Sarwar pledged to use the next five years to “rebuild our party” and “urgently improve our party machine” in order to “take the fight to the SNP and the Tories”.

His five-point plan promised to run a “dedicated, well-resourced digital directorate in Scottish HQ”, provide training for Labour activists, offer rapid rebuttal and “make better use” of expertise within the party.

Below is the full text of Anas Sarwar’s acceptance speech.

It is the greatest honour of my life to be elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

Thank you to our members and affiliates for putting your trust in me and giving me the opportunity to serve our movement.

And thank you to Monica for joining me in what has been a positive campaign that has shown the best of our party, not the worst of our politics.

We will work together to rebuild our party so that we have the opportunity to rebuild Scotland.

I want to say directly to the people of Scotland, I know Labour has a lot of work to do to win back your trust.

Because if we’re brutally honest – you haven’t had the Scottish Labour Party you deserve. With rising injustice, inequality and division, I’m sorry we haven’t been good enough.

And I will work day and night to change that, so we can build the country we all need.

Our party’s history was founded on the strength of the Scottish people – and that is where its future lies too.

We must capture the spirit of Keir Hardie who founded our movement. Of Donald Dewar, who turned the dream of devolution into a reality.

And Gordon Brown, who led our nation’s fight against the scandal of child poverty.

We can do that again. But the hard graft starts here. As I take over Scottish Labour I’m determined to bring that change. It’s in my blood.

75 years ago my grandfather came to Lossiemouth with nothing – searching for a better future. And he found one here.

He was always meant to return back home, but instead he fell in love with Scotland and brought his own family here.

75 years on from that boat arriving on these shores, he would never have imagined that his grandson would one day be elected to lead the Labour movement in Scotland.

Today we have elected the first ever ethnic minority leader of a political party in the UK.

That doesn’t say something about me. That says something great about Scotland and its people.

But the fight for equality is far from over. And I’ll work with all our diverse communities in Scotland to rebuild the country we love.

This last year has been so hard, for so many. But by staying apart, we have come together like never before.

We can’t come through this and go back to the old arguments, fighting each other while our NHS loses out on funding, our children miss out on a world class education, and our towns and cities watch on as jobs move overseas.

Instead, we’ve got to create a better future for Scotland and we need to do that now.

That’s why in the coming weeks, we will set out our vision for Scotland. Instead of focusing on division, we will make the case for a Covid Recovery Parliament.

With an NHS restart plan at its heart, so we never again – never again – have to choose between treating a virus or treating cancer.

We will set out a catch-up plan for our children because I won’t let a generation of young people go forgotten.

And we will set out a real vision for jobs – for now, and for the future. Supporting good businesses, to create good jobs.

The task ahead of us is tough, but together there is nothing we cannot achieve.

For too long politicians have presented binary choices. Whether it’s Yes or No, Leave or Remain, they have forced you to pick a side.

We can’t go back to those old arguments. So I say to you directly…

If you’re worried about when or if you’re going back to work, I’m on your side.

If you’re worried about your child’s education or mental health, I’m on your side.

If you’re worried about a cancelled operation or cancer diagnosis, I’m on your side.

If you’re worried about the planet we’re leaving for our children and our grandchildren, I’m on your side.

If you’re the victim of inequality or injustice, I’m on your side.

And I’m determined that the Labour Party I lead will always be on your side.

Because I will be a leader that focuses on what unites our country – not what divides it. And together we will build a better future for Scotland. Thank you.

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