Scottish Labour Party raises nearly £1m in first year of Sarwar leadership

Elliot Chappell

Anas Sarwar has revealed that the Scottish Labour Party has raised nearly £1m in the past 12 months and said he inherited a “hollowed out” organisation upon his election as leader almost one year ago – including fundraising problems.

Discussing his first year in the top job on Times Radio this morning, having been elected in February 2021, the Scottish Labour leader told listeners that he “always knew it was going to be a big task and a big challenge”.

But he added: “I didn’t quite grip or grasp how, I think, hollowed out we were as an organisation. Not just in terms of our political message and our political result – as an organisation I hadn’t really realised how hollowed out we were.”

Sarwar said Scottish Labour raised just £250 in the 12 months leading up to his leadership contest victory and described the party under his predecessor, Richard Leonard, as “not a professional, forward-looking organisation”.

“In the last year, we’re almost at £1m. So I think we can demonstrate that we are in a different place and we are putting together a proper, functioning, professional organisation that seeks to not just be a name on a ballot paper but actually seeks to be a party that can govern a country,” Sarwar added.

Sarwar became leader in late February last year, receiving 57.56% of the vote. He secured 61.21% of party member votes and 49.31% votes cast by affiliate supporters. His rival, Monica Lennon, was backed by 42.44% of eligible voters.

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

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.

He criticised the party for what he described as the “really, really poor” position of Scottish Labour’s finances in October after The Daily Mail reported that £250 had been made from “fundraising and business events” in 2019.

Addressing Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow, he said: “The Labour Party in Scotland had no meaningful fundraising operation in place, and its fundraising figures were so woeful I don’t even think they are worthy of comment.”

Recent financial difficulties in the UK Labour Party have led to staff cuts. After reducing the workforce by 80 last year, the party asked employees to accept a real-terms pay cut to compensate for the loss of more than £3m to falling membership and reduced trade union support.

Employees have been offered a 2% pay uplift for next year, which is a real-terms cut, while directors have had their pay frozen. Labour is understood to be hoping for large private donations and has held donor events in a bid to attract contributions.

Relations with the unions have deteriorated since April 2020. Unite voted in October 2020 to reduce its affiliation fee by 10%. The Bakers’ union disaffiliated from the party last year and train drivers’ union ASLEF is considering doing the same.

The party is currently in conflict with Unite over a dispute between Labour-led Coventry Council and its staff. General secretary Sharon Graham has warned that her union, which is still Labour’s biggest affiliate, could reduce its funding further.

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