Anas Sarwar makes ‘open and big offer’ to work with SNP on building a 'stronger, fairer, greener nation'

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The Scottish Labour leader also accused the Tories of 'pushing voters into the hands of the SNP' - PA
The Scottish Labour leader also accused the Tories of 'pushing voters into the hands of the SNP' - PA

Anas Sarwar has made “an open and big offer” to work with the SNP and insisted Scottish Labour is “well and truly back on the pitch”, despite delivering its worst election performance north of the Border since devolution.

While there was speculation at the start of the campaign that Scottish Labour might beat the Tories out of second place, the party continued its downward trend and won 22 MSPs - two less than its 2016 result.

Speaking during a post-election speech in Glasgow, Mr Sarwar said he was “immensely proud of the campaign that we ran”.

“I think even the harshest critics would accept that we ran a campaign of energy, of positivity, of ideas, but also of hope. Of not accepting the frame that was put in front of us, but instead demonstrating that we could try and choose something different,” he said.

Mr Sarwar, who opposes a second independence referendum, warned Nicola Sturgeon that she “cannot attempt to lead half the country” through another campaign while also delivering a “recovery that works for everyone”.

“That is simply not credible,” he said, pointing out that Ms Sturgeon had promised her “relentless focus” would be on Scotland’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

However, he added: "So I am making an open offer, and a big offer, to all political parties across Scotland, but in particular an open and big offer to the SNP.

"Yes, we will disagree on the issue of the constitution, but we cannot allow that one issue that we disagree on to paralyse our politics and stop us making positive progress together."

The Labour leader said he wanted to "push the Scottish Government and Nicola Sturgeon further" and work with other parties to build a recovery and a "stronger, fairer, greener nation".

Mr Sarwar also took aim at the Scottish Tories, accusing them of helping to “further divide” the country by their “direct choice” to “make this election campaign a straight dividing line between Yes and No”.

Addressing the Tories directly, he said: "Your campaign actually pushed people into the hands of the SNP.”

He insisted he was “not willing to fall for that divide”, and claimed voters sent a “clear message” to Scotland's political parties to "focus on the recovery, not a referendum".

However, the UK's leading pollster has suggested that Mr Sarwar’s policy of refusing to engage on the constitution will continue to damage Labour’s fortunes in the country it once dominated.

“Trying to ask people to ignore an issue that is clearly the one they all really care about is not necessarily the best place to be seated,” Sir John Curtice told the Daily Telegraph.

Labour’s “perpetual problem”, he said, is that both Sir Keir and Mr Sarwar’s campaign was to tell voters “can we please talk about something else”.

Sir John also pointed out that Scottish Labour “didn’t make any particular effort” to boost their list vote despite having very little to gain on a constituency level, whereas the Tories “explicitly targeted” the regional lists.

“Another problem is Scottish Labour’s life will be made a lot easier if the party south of Border gets its act together,” he added.

It comes as Labour’s shadow Scotland Secretary was forced to deny that Keir Starmer had sacked his deputy Angela Rayner as party chair.

Speaking on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Ian Murray also claimed that Sir Keir is “taking responsibility” for his party’s disastrous election results in England which saw it lose Hartlepool for the first time in 62 years.

“We’ve got to respond now to what communities are telling us and what I heard on the doors right across the country, voters are willing to listen to the Labour party again but they’re just not making that step yet to vote for us and that’s why Keir Starmer has to speak up for party, speak up the policy making process,” he insisted.

But Sir John warned that while the UK Labour leader “has his eyes on the Red Wall” he is “not looking further north”, and Scottish voters who overwhelmingly backed Remain in the Brexit referendum will be put off by a strategy that ignores the issue.