Anas Sarwar elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Anas Sarwar has been elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party, becoming the fifth leader of the party since the Scottish independence referendum and the first leader of a national party in the UK from an ethnic minority.  

Sarwar, who represents the region of Glasgow in the Scottish Parliament, defeated Monica Lennon in the two-person contest, winning 57.6 per cent of the vote to her 42.4 per cent. 

Originally a dentist, Sarwar was elected a Member of Parliament in 2010, succeeding his father Mohammad Sarwar, who was the first Muslim MP in the UK. 

Sarwar took a strong interest in foreign policy when in Westminster and served on the International Development Select Committee. 

Following the loss of his seat in the 2015 election, he stood to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament and was elected in 2016. 

At just thirty-seven years old, Sarwar has significant experience with leadership and campaigns. 

He took a key role in the 2014 Better Together campaign, which urged continued Scottish membership of the UK, co-ordinating with the Scottish Labour Party group called United with Labour.

 Although he was unsuccessful in his first bid to become Scottish Labour leader in 2017, he served as both deputy and acting leader in the subsequent years. 

When outlining his priorities if elected, Sarwar stated that he wanted to create a ‘Covid Recovery Parliament,’ which would focus on reducing child poverty and improving the economy. 

He has proposed doubling the Scottish Child Payment, which he argues would have a significant impact on child poverty. 

He has also suggested increasing payments to households with adults or children with disabilities. 

Politically, Sarwar has described himself as a ‘Brownite,’ and in an interview with Good Morning Scotland he promised that he would reject the option of a second independence referendum, criticising the division that the 2014 referendum caused. 

Instead, he declared that his priority was rebuilding Scotland. 

Sarwar takes over from Richard Leonard, who had led the Scottish Labour Party for just three years. 

This change of leadership has been considered surprising, coming just months before the elections to the Scottish Parliament on 6 May, and may be indicative of the tensions within the Scottish Labour Party, which gave rise to an ultimately unsuccessful challenge to Leonard’s leadership in 2020. 

Opinion polls currently suggest that the SNP is on course to win a narrow victory in the May elections, but if Sarwar can make a significant impact he may erode some of the support of the SNP, who have recently been impacted by the Alex Salmond enquiry. 

However, this will pose a considerable challenge, as the Scottish Labour Party currently trails the Conservatives in the polls.

 The Scottish Labour party also saw disappointing results in the 2019 European Parliament elections.

Speaking to The Guardian, Sarwar described the job of leader of the Scottish Labour Party as, ‘the most difficult job in British politics.’ 

Image: Scottish Parliament via Wikimedia Commons