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Anas Sarwar’s Scottish Labour leader bid ‘about electing next First Minister’

MSP spoke of his ambition to become Scotland’s next First Minister during the event held in Glasgow Southside.

MSP Anas Sarwar has said the Labour leadership contest is about electing the next First Minister of Scotland as he spoke of his wish to build a more “open, outward-looking, diverse nation”.

The Glasgow politician has formally launched his drive to be the next leader of Scottish Labour with a pledge to deliver “equality, opportunity and fairness” in power.

The leadership hopeful also said he was “scunnered” with “divisive” Scottish politics but insisted his party is the “single best vehicle for change” in the country.

Mr Sarwar, who is seen as being in the moderate wing of the party, told Labour supporters they could choose “to focus on the divisions of the past, or to build a fairer future for all”.

Addressing a packed gathering in Gorbals Parish Church, Glasgow, he said: “We have a choice to protest about the ills in our country or to defeat inequality in power.

“We have a choice to continue to divide, or to bring our party and our country together. I don’t want to be a Scottish Labour leader who just talks about fighting inequality, creating opportunity, ending austerity and building a fairer society.

“I want to deliver that equality, opportunity and fairness as the next First Minister of Scotland.”

The plea for unity comes amid fears his candidacy could open up divisions on the left of the party.

Anas Sarwar at his campaign headquarters in Glasgow ahead of his launch campaign to be the next Scottish Labour leader (Andrew Milligan/PA)

He is competing for the leadership against his Holyrood colleague Richard Leonard, who is closer politically to UK leader Jeremy Corbyn and is launching his leadership bid at the weekend.

Setting out his reasons for standing, Mr Sarwar said: “People look confused when I reply it’s because I’m scunnered with Scottish politics. Our politics has become so petty, inward-looking and divisive.

“But you have two options when you’re scunnered – you walk away, or you try to change things. I want to change our politics. I want to transform it into something bold, radical, and hopeful.”

He added: “That’s why I’m standing, because I want to build an open, outward-looking, diverse nation.”

Mr Sarwar said he would lead a party that champions radical democratic socialism and “principled internationalism”.

The MSP said he would pursue policies to end austerity, end the gender pay gap and lift children out of poverty, as well as launching “an action plan to rescue our NHS” on the first day of a Scottish Labour government.

He claimed Scotland is suffering at the hands of “failing” governments at Westminster and Holyrood.

“Ten years of constitutional obsession has left Scotland a more divided and more unequal nation,” he said.

“Educations standards falling. Our NHS in distress. Too many children not getting the opportunities they deserve. Inequality and poverty on the rise. That’s why we need a Labour government.”

Mr Sarwar said he believes he can unite the party and help deliver a Labour government across the UK with Mr Corbyn as prime minister.

His insistence that he backs Mr Corbyn comes despite signing a letter urging him to step down last year.

Speaking in the First Minister’s constituency, he warned the SNP that Labour was “parking our tanks on Nicola Sturgeon’s lawn”.

“This campaign is not just about electing a Labour leader; it’s about electing the next Labour First Minister,” he said.

“We need a Labour government, because the sad reality is that the three most important letters for Nicola Sturgeon are S,N,P. But for me, the three most important letters will always be N,H,S.”

Mr Sarwar also paid tribute to Kezia Dugdale, whose resignation as Scottish Labour leader last month triggered the leadership contest.

The result of the contest will be announced in November.

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