The Labour Party I want is socialist, pro-Union, and in power. For that, Anas Sarwar is the best choice for leader
In choosing a leader, Scottish Labour Party members need to ask themselves where they want the party to be in Scotland’s political landscape. I know what kind of Labour Party I want: socialist, pro-Union, and in power.
We have arrived at a point where the task before Labour in Scotland is clear: to fill the hole in Scottish political debate. The broad mass of Scots wants to be able to vote for a party that stands staunchly in favour of Scotland’s place in the UK, is economically and socially progressive, and knows how to win an election then reform a country. Scottish Labour must be that option. Anas Sarwar is the man who can make it happen.
It gives me no pleasure to write that the last few years have been a missed opportunity for Labour. Scottish politics is still divided along pro and anti-independence lines. Labour, by appearing to equivocate on the Union, allowed the SNP to colonise traditional Labour territory on public services and social attitudes.
As a result, the majority of Scots who favour both progressive economic policy and the Union have been left politically homeless. The SNP has been seen to claim the mantle of the former, and the Tories’ Ruth Davidson has been allowed to improve her party’s fortunes with her staunch position on the latter.
This leadership election is a chance for Scottish Labour to choose a leader who puts the party squarely where it should be: confidently pro-Union, pro-redistribution, and practical enough to bring real change.
Take child poverty. In the last four years, child poverty has gone up. According to the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, 22 per cent of Scottish children were living in poverty three years ago. Last year it was up to over a quarter.
The IFS predicts that on current trends, the percentage will go up by half by 2020/21, reversing the UK-wide fall since the 90s.
That is a scandal.
The first step in tackling this is helping those families pay less tax. That is exactly what Anas Sarwar will do. He would bring in a targeted Child Tax Credit which would help 50,000 children by giving their families an extra £10 a week, per child.
Don’t let anyone tell you that that is a wishy washy policy. It could be the difference between a child going to school well-fed, with the right shoes and clothes, or able to do their homework in a properly heated house. It is achievable.
Take the Union. It is likely that when the history of the last few years is written, it will be seen as Scotland taking a long look at the case for independence, and deciding against it. Support for independence is ebbing. We are not likely to see a majority supporting it any time soon.
It is time for the Labour Party to be led by a staunch pro-Union politician. Anas’s credentials are impeccable. He was at the helm of the distinct, positive Labour campaign to keep Scotland in the Union. He has gone head-to-head with Nicola Sturgeon numerous times on the campaign trail with great success. No longer will Labour need to lose votes to the Conservatives on account of fears over the party’s stance on independence.
Take Brexit. This is no time for ambiguity. Trade unionists up and down the UK want us to be part of the European single market. I’ve never met a Scot who wanted Scottish workers not to be able to take maternity leave, paternity leave, or continue to have the rights to paid annual leave, rest breaks, or rights for agency workers. Leaving would risk all of them. Why do it? Anas is unambiguous on his support for permanent UK membership of the European single market.
Before entering politics, Anas worked for the NHS as a dentist. For him, the state of the public services in Scotland is not abstract politics. It is his professional background. It was his entire livelihood, just as it is the livelihoods of his friends, family, and former colleagues. Anas is also Shadow Health Secretary in Scotland and has gone head-to-head with the SNP on health in the same way that he went head-to-head with Nicola Sturgeon on the independence campaign trail.
Despite all the sound and fury of political division, Scots remain surprisingly united over what their country should look like: a high-investment, high-pay economy, with a solid welfare state and infrastructure to support it. Part of the single market and the customs union. And, yes, the United Kingdom.
For my money, Anas is best placed to ensure this. The son of an immigrant who has worked in the NHS, and who has worked in Westminster and Holyrood and knows both inside and out. He headed the pro-Union campaign in Scotland and managed to win against the seductive but dangerous programme for independence sold by the SNP. He can embody modern Scotland, deliver on its promise, and put Scottish Labour back where it belongs: in power.
Dr Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chair of The Scotland Institute think tank