Anas Sarwar promises to focus on what unites the country after becoming Scottish Labour leader

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Anas Sarwar has promised to be a leader that focuses on what ‘unites the country’ in his first address since becoming the head of the Scottish Labour party.

In a video published on Saturday, he spoke of the need to move past the binary arguments of the past.

“For too long, politicians have presented binary choices. Whether it’s yes or no, leave or remain. They forced you to pick a side. We can’t go back to those old arguments.”

Sarwar was elected after the resignation of Richard Leonard. He won 57.56% of the vote, placing him ahead of Monica Lennon (42.4%). 

In doing so, he became the first British Pakistani Muslim MP to lead a major political party in the UK. He follows in the political footsteps of his Father Mohammed, who predictably, was proud of the news. Mohammed Sarwar, who was elected to Glasgow Central in 1997, was the first British Muslim MP.

After the eruption of focus on Black Lives Matter last year, many institutions both public and private, were forced to look at how they had either systemically or otherwise, contributed to creating obstacles to black people. 

This then led to broader public discourse on minority representation, a matter in which Sarwar was vocal when speaking on the lack of diversity in the Scottish Parliament.

“In the entire 20 year history of the Scottish Parliament, we have only ever elected four ethnic minority MSPs, and all four have been from Glasgow.

“All four, have been from Pakistani origin. All four have been Muslim, all four have been males. We need to attract more elected members - female ethnic minority representation, people from other minority groups for example our Chinese communities, our African community. These are all areas that continue to be underrepresented.

“Four people is not good enough in itself, but we need to have greater representation if we are to truly be a parliament that reflects our wider society.”

The appointment of Anas Sarwar will not stop critics and civil society organisations from continuing to highlight the issue, but it is an important milestone. Onlookers will hope that this may change for the better in the near future. 

The new Scottish Labour leader has wasted no time unveiling his new ‘campaign cabinet’, underlining the urgency with which he hopes to make an impact. With Scotland’s elections fast approaching on May 6, many will be watching how events unfold North of the border. A recent poll from Ipsos MORI showed the SNP to be in poll position ahead of May’s Holyrood elections.

Of those expressing their intention to vote, 52% said they were likely to vote for the SNP in the constituency vote. This is three percentage points down from the period between 20-26 November. By contrast, 15% expressed their intention to vote for Scottish Labour, a 1% increase from the November polling. 

However, the ongoing Alex Salmond investigation and its potential fallout could still have some effect between now and then.

64 days remain until ‘election day’ in Scotland. There may not be an enormous amount of time remaining, but the coming election should offer Anas Sarwar an early test in his new leadership role.

Mayowa Ayodele

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