Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar demand UK-wide focus on Covid recovery

Elliot Chappell
© Ian Vogler

Keir Starmer will join Anas Sarwar to demand a UK-wide focus on the recovery from the pandemic as the pair pay tribute to frontline health workers later today.

Speaking ahead of a visit to Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the Holyrood elections in May, the UK Labour Party leader declared that Scotland’s recovery from the health crisis “must be the number one priority for its government”.

“First and foremost, today is about paying tribute to the NHS staff across Scotland who have been on the frontline of this pandemic,” Starmer said. “They have battled Covid heroically, and now they are helping defeat it by rolling out the vaccine.

“Once this virus is beaten, Scotland’s recovery must be the number one priority for its government. That’s what Anas Sarwar and Scottish Labour are offering in May’s election.

“Scottish Labour, under Anas’s leadership, is the only party serious about tackling the injustices which have been brutally exposed by Covid. Whether it’s education, the economy, or Scotland’s NHS, a vote for Scottish Labour in May is a vote to secure Scotland’s recovery.”

Sarwar announced that a “national recovery plan” for the devolved nation will form the centrepiece of the Scottish Labour election campaign earlier this week and urged the electorate to vote for a “Covid recovery parliament” in May.

“At this election we will be prioritising unity over division,” the newly elected Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar explained ahead of the visit from Starmer later today.

“After everything we have been through across the entire UK, we can’t return to the old arguments. Over the past year, our NHS staff in every nation and region of the UK have worked so hard under intense pressure.

“But our thanks is not enough – we need a relentless focus on a national recovery plan which prioritises our NHS, so that we never again have to choose between treating a virus or treating cancer.”

Delivering his first major speech as Scottish Labour leader on Monday, he announced five themes to the election campaign: “a jobs recovery; an NHS recovery; an education recovery; a climate recovery; and a communities recovery”.

The Scottish Labour leader has repeatedly said that a fresh independence referendum is not credible in the wake of the health crisis and would undermine the national effort to recover from the pandemic.

The visit from Starmer today follows an SNP UK parliament opposition day debate on independence on Wednesday, during which Labour’s Ian Murray criticised the decision by the nationalist party to prioritise the issue.

“It’s not as if there isn’t anything for us to debate today,” the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland quipped during the debate. “You wouldn’t think we were in the worst health and economic crisis since World War Two.”

He argued that the SNP are attempting to turn the May 6th Holyrood election into a vote on Scottish independence because “they can’t defend their atrocious record in government” and have “nothing to offer” to the electorate.

Murray highlighted that four recent polls had shown that the Scottish public are in favour of remaining as part of the UK, with one on Wednesday suggesting 57% of people are in favour of staying against 43% backing independence.

The research carried out by Survation between March 9th and 12th showed that with “don’t knows” included, 49% of the Scottish public would vote to remain in the union and 37% would choose to leave if an independence referendum were held now.

Voters will go to the polls in Scotland on May 6th to elect members of the Scottish parliament in Holyrood. Newly elected Labour leader Sarwar has decided to run against Nicola Sturgeon in her Glasgow Southside constituency.

The Scottish First Minister and SNP MSP won the seat with a clear majority at the last Holyrood election held in 2016, securing almost 10,000 more votes than the Labour Party candidate Fariha Thomas.

“It may well be her constituency, but it’s my home. I was brought up on the south side of Glasgow, I live here,” said Sarwar. “I’m not doing this because I think it’s brave, I’m doing it because I believe in it.”

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