Anas Sarwar pledges to 'rebuild' Scottish Labour as he is elected new party leader

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Anas Sarwar won the Scottish Labour leadership contest - Andrew Milligan/PA
Anas Sarwar won the Scottish Labour leadership contest - Andrew Milligan/PA

Anas Sarwar has been elected Scottish Labour leader, and pledged in his victory speech to “rebuild" the party before turning his attention to the country.

Winning a snap leadership election ten weeks before May’s Holyrood election, Mr Sarwar, MSP for Glasgow, beat his only rival candidate, Monica Lennon, by getting 57.6 percent of the vote.

The contest was announced following the resignation of Richard Leonard, the previous Scottish Labour leader, in January.

Mr Sarwar, described as the first Muslim leader of a major political party in the UK, now faces the task of rebuilding a party running third in polls ahead of the Holyrood election.

In his victory speech he called his win the “greatest honour of my life.”

He said: “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. I'll work with all our diverse communities in Scotland to rebuild the country we love."

Mr Sarwar became the fifth leader of Scottish Labour, seen by many as a divided party, to hold the position since 2014.

He has rejected calls for a new referendum on Scottish independence. “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,” he said.

“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 a country we all need.”

UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said of Mr Sarwar: “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.”

Mr Sarwar, a former deputy leader of Scottish Labour, pledged to “make the case for a Covid recovery parliament with an NHS restart plan at its heart, so we never again have to choose between treating a virus or treating cancer.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, tweeted congratulations to Mr Sarwar. “He (and his dad before him) and I are long-time political opponents, but I also like and rate him,” she wrote.

“That may not always be obvious in the weeks ahead as election battle is joined, so worth saying so now."

Mr Sarwar's father Mohammad became the Muslim MP in the UK in 1997 when he was elected to represent Glasgow Govan.

Retiring in 2010, Mohammad relinquished his UK citizenship in 2013 before launching a political career in Pakistan. In August 2018, he was elected Governor of Punjab after previously serving the Senate.