Anas Sarwar rejects coalitions with SNP or Tories after May’s council elections

The Scottish Labour leader spoke out after making his first major speech of the new year.

Katrine Bussey
Monday 10 January 2022 14:38
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said he did not want his party to enter pacts or coalitions with either the SNP or the Tories following May’s council elections (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said he did not want his party to enter pacts or coalitions with either the SNP or the Tories following May’s council elections (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has made it clear he does not want his party to do deals with either the SNP or the Tories to get into power in local government.

With council elections in Scotland due to take place in May, Mr Sarwar shunned the idea of forming pacts or coalitions with rival parties – despite the PR system used in the election making it difficult for parties to win overall control of local authorities.

Instead he suggested Labour could run minority administrations, winning support based on local issues and policies.

His comments came as he made it plain Labour candidates in Scotland would be expected to back a “reformed and renewed UK”.

Scottish Labour Leader Anas Sarwar spoke out after his virtual address. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

He dismissed reports that the party could allow candidates who support Scottish independence to stand for election – with claims that UK leader Sir Keir Starmer could potentially back this as he bids to find a route back to power at Westminster.

Conservative local government spokesman Miles Briggs has said every Tory candidate for May’s elections “will have a clear stance in favour of sticking together as one United Kingdom” – and he challenged Labour to do the same.

Mr Briggs said: “We will stand no candidates who are pro-independence.

“Scottish Labour may have given up on expecting its candidates to stand against independence, but Scottish Conservatives won’t stop fighting for Scotland’s place in our United Kingdom.”

But Mr Sarwar responded: “On the question directly of candidates we will be a pro-UK party standing for a reformed and renewed UK and all of our candidates would be expected to abide by that manifesto.”

I don’t think we should be doing pacts or deals or coalitions

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar

He made his comments as he said Labour would “throw everything” at the council elections on May 5.

With the number of councillors the party has falling from 395 to 262 in the previous elections in 2017, Mr Sarwar said that had been a “difficult result” for Scottish Labour, which came in third behind the SNP and Tories.

Power-sharing coalitions, such as one between Labour and the SNP in Edinburgh City Council, were then formed.

Such deals have to win the support of Labour’s ruling Scottish Executive Committee, but Mr Sarwar said: “My strong view, and this is a discussion we will have with our colleagues in local government and also with the Scottish Executive Committee, is I don’t think we should be doing pacts or deals or coalitions.

“I  don’t think we should be looking at coalitions with any political party, but rather looking to maximise Labour representation and winning individual arguments on their merits.

“I want us to build from where we were  and I want us to aspire to have representation across all parts of the country, and to win as many seats as possible and to be influencing as many people’s lives as possible by having Labour administrations and Labour councillors.”

His comments came after a speech in which he hit out at both the SNP and the Tories, and their respective leaders.

Speaking about Boris Johnson, Mr Sarwar said: “We have a Prime Minister, to put it bluntly, that is disastrous and incompetent.”

But he claimed that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was “divisive and increasingly disconnected”, adding that she “wants us to come through the pandemic and divide us all over again” with plans for a second independence vote.

He accused Ms Sturgeon’s party of having a “growing arrogance of power”, adding: “When politicians or parties begin to believe they are untouchable or unbeatable they begin to lose touch, become distant and take people for granted.

“I believe that is happening to this SNP government.”

But SNP MSP Paul McLennan said Mr Sarwar’s speech “failed to address the elephant in the room – that the people of Scotland have already voted to put their future into their own hands with an independence referendum”.

And after the Scottish Labour leader appealed for people to come forward to stand in the council elections, Mr McLennan said: “Labour’s unpopularity in Scotland was demonstrated by how Sarwar was essentially begging for people to come forward to stand in an election that is just four months away.”

He added: “Until Anas Sarwar and Scottish Labour stop working with the Tories to deny democracy, then they will continue to slide into irrelevance.”

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