Anas Sarwar has been elected leader of Scottish Labour as the party attempts to retrieve its perilous position in the polls ahead of the crucial election to the Holyrood parliament on 6 May.
The Glasgow MSP becomes the first person from an ethnic minority background to be elected to the leadership of a major party in the UK after seeing off rival Monica Lennon by a margin of 57.56 per cent to 42.44 per cent in a ballot of members and affiliated supporters.
In a video message accepting victory, Mr Sarwar admitted the party north of the border “hasn’t been good enough” and promised to work hard to regain voters’ support.
The election was sparked by the shock resignation in January of left-winger Richard Leonard, who said he was stepping down in the interest of the party.
Both Mr Sarwar and health spokeswoman Ms Lennon were seen as being more closely aligned with UK leader Sir Keir Starmer and both presented themselves as “change” candidates in the election.
Labour is currently running a poor third in polling for the Scottish parliament elections, with a recent Ipsos Mori poll for STV News putting support for the party at 15 per cent in the constituency vote and 14 per cent in the regional list, against 23 and 22 per cent respectively for Tories.
Both are trailing well behind the Scottish National Party, on 52 and 47 per cent, with little sign yet that the furious spat between leader Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond is harming the chances of a comfortable nationalist majority.
Sir Keir congratulated Sarwar on his election, adding: “I look forward to working with him to secure our economy, protect our NHS and rebuild our country.
“We will fight the Scottish parliamentary elections by making the case for a socially just Scotland in a modern United Kingdom. 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.”
In a message to Scottish voters after his victory was announced, Mr Sarwar said: “You haven’t had the Scottish Labour Party you deserve – 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.”
He said he would draw on the spirit of Labour’s first leader Keir Hardie, the first Scottish first minister Donald Dewar and Labour’s last prime minister Gordon Brown, but made no mention of either Starmer or his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
Declaring he will be “a leader that focuses on what unites our country, not what divides it”, he promised to work together with Ms Lennon “to rebuild our party so that we have the opportunity to rebuild Scotland”.
Mr Sarwar, 37, was MP for Glasgow Central at Westminster from 2010-15 and has been MSP for the Glasgow region since 2016. He served as Scottish Labour’s deputy leader under Johann Lamont from 2011-14.
SNP deputy leader Keith Brown congratulated him on his victory, but said: “Mr Sarwar has, perhaps, an impossible job on his hands breathing life into a party with no new ideas, ambition or vision for Scotland.”
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