Anas Sarwar insists Scottish Labour candidates will need to be 'pro-UK'
Anas Sarwar has insisted Labour’s candidates will not be allowed to “undermine” the UK at the next general election.
The Scottish Labour leader hit out at comments attributed to a source close to Keir Starmer over the weekend that the party could allow its parliamentary candidates to support Scottish independence.
A senior source told the Sunday Times: “Yes we are a pro-unionist party but we are a broad church. That means you could have candidates who back independence. You don’t have to have a binary position; you can have people with different stances.”
That led to the Scottish Conservatives committing to only standing “pro-UK candidates in May’s local elections.”
Asked if he could make the same commitment, Sarwar said the source “clearly doesn't understand that decisions on selecting candidates in Scotland, even for a general election, are made by the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Labour party alone.”
“We'll be a pro-UK party standing for a reformed and renewed UK and all our candidates will be expected to abide by that manifesto,” he added. “So we can have a prime minister that is for the whole United Kingdom.”
“We want to win in Scotland, and we want to win across the UK. And the idea that we're going to undermine that is frankly laughable,” Sarwar continued.
He rejected claims this meant he was being frozen out by the Westminster leadership. Sarwar said he was close to Starmer: “It is one story in one newspaper from one source. I think I have a much better understanding of what the political tactics are for Scotland.
"So I think I can confidently say that knowing one, what the strategy needs to be and secondly, knowing that the process for selecting candidates is made in Scotland by this party.
"I think you're better off listening to me than whoever was speaking to the Sunday Times."
And with just over four months to go until the local elections across Scotland’s 32 councils, the Scottish Labour leader said he would rather his party ran minority administrations than form “pacts or deals or coalitions” with the Conservatives or SNP.
At the 2017 local government elections, the party’s ruling Scottish Executive Committee said deals with the Tories would have the blessing with of the leadership as long as they could guarantee there would be no austerity, no compulsory job losses and no service cuts.
Nine Labour councillors who entered a deal with the Conservatives in Aberdeen were suspended by Kezia Dugdale, the leader at the time, as she was not satisfied the coalition deal had those guarantees.
Sarwar told media: “I don't think we should be looking at coalitions with any political party but rather looking to maximise Labour representation, and winning arguments, individual arguments on their merits.”
He added: “I think there is a case to be made for minority administrations. I want us to maximise Labour representation at the council elections. I want us to have Labour councillors across the country and Labour councils across the country. And I think that there's a way that you can avoid coalitions with either the SNP or the Tories and form administrations based on individual issues for individual communities.
“But these are conversations we'll have with our local government colleagues and issues will reflect on on the Scottish Executive Committee and make clear what our position is well in advance of the council elections.”
Sarwar was also pressed on a tweet by North East MSP Mercedes Villalba. Over the weekend, the leftwinger called for Jeremy Corbyn to be allowed back into the party.
He was suspended in 2020 after he claimed the “scale” of Labour’s antisemitism problem was “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media."
The comments were made on the day the Equalities and Human Rights Commission published a report into Labour's handling of complaints about antisemitic behaviour of some of its supporters.
The watchdog said the party had broken the law and said there were "serious failings" under Corbyn's leadership.
Sir Keir Starmer has made an apology a condition of his predecessor being allowed to stand for the party at the next election.
Over the weekend, there were reports that rather than apologise he could stand for his own Peace and Justice party.
Taking to Twitter on Sunday, Villalba tweeted: “Jeremy Corbyn is a Labour Party member and should have the whip restored to him immediately.”
Sarwar said: “The reality is that is an internal disciplinary process and we will reflect on the impact that the antisemitism row - more than a row - had had on communities across the country. I have been spending a lot of time speaking to the Jewish community here in Scotland, and I've heard directly about the pain and the anguish that whole episode caused, and I am working to rebuild our relationship with all our communities across Scotland, including the Jewish community.”
He added: “As the Labour Party we've got to hold ourselves to the highest standard and the gold standard. And so I would much prefer that those responsible for the pain apologise directly, reflect on the positions, remove posts that I think are unhelpful.”
Sarwar said the party needed to “focus on the future, not the past.”
“I'm not interested in past leaders or past problems or past issues, I'm interested in the future. And I expect every Labour MP, MSP and councillor to be focused on the future as well.”