Johann Lamont MSP, former Scottish Labour leader, sets out why she’s backing Anas Sarwar to be the next leader of Scottish Labour.
So, another Scottish leadership contest. One that I and many other did not want.
Kez Dugdale, in the toughest of circumstances, began the slow process of rebuilding the trust of the people of Scotland in our party. We did not lose support at one, finite point in time; the road back must be paved by a seriousness of purpose. There was – and there is – no quick fix. If there was, one of our many previous leaders would surely have grasped it with both hands.
Kez got that, recognising the importance of the constitutional question – still – to the people of Scotland, but understanding the price being paid by so many for a politics transfixed upon the one solution – independence – to our every problem. Her courage in making the case for investment in the public services we all need, her willingness to take on the argument on taxation should not be underestimated. In the election she faced derision from the SNP, the same party which now wants a debate on how we use taxation to resource our future prosperity and wellbeing.
It may suit the current leadership debate to call for change, to rail against the safe managerialism of the past, but that was not what Kez advocated nor how she acted.
When the leadership contest began, I was content to keep my views to myself, sure in the awareness that there is little so ‘ex’ as an ex-leader. I was content to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates, both of whom I know, admire and consider as friends and comrades. Both of them have the commitment and passion to speak up for the people of Scotland, to expose inequality and injustice in our communities, to make clear our commitment to co-operation and a shared vision across the UK and who had not just an understanding of the causes of poverty and injustice, but a clear vision and practical plans for creating the opportunities denied to far too many in our society.
So there seemed no need to make my choice public. An opportunity to see ideas debated, proposals tested and a chance to continue that important journey to credibility and trust, whoever was to be elected.
I now have decided to add my thoughts because I have become increasingly concerned at the gap between what this contest could have meant, and how it is now being conducted.
For some, this contest has to be a choice between absolutes, in order to frame it as a simple choice. Good v bad; principled v unprincipled; loyal v disloyal; someone who cares v someone who logically therefore does not give a hoot. False choices that demean us.
Both candidates can do the job and a scorched earth approach, diminishing one to enhance the other, is as destructive as it is dishonest.
So this is not a contest between good and bad. It is not a proxy test for our loyalty to our UK leader. It is about electing the better candidate to make Scottish Labour’s case, to win support and to secure power to serve our communities and make real the change that Scotland needs.
The truth is different; both candidates have many qualities which they have put to the service of the party they love. And neither is perfect – I have enjoyed arguing with both of them many, many times. But take it from one who knows: leadership does not take perfection – it takes the humility to know your own limits – and will always work better by reaching out to others rather than dismissing them.
And I have made my choice to support Anas Sarwar. And I want to make it public for I find the cartoon depiction of his character unacceptable and deeply unfair.
Anas was my deputy at a time of heightened challenges for our country and he and I worked closely as we fought to support Scotland’s place in the UK and to begin the battle to win back voters to Labour’s cause. His loyalty to me was a constant in a world of upheaval, a loyalty as certain in private as it might be on public display.
I saw close up his energy, tenacity, clarity of thinking; I saw his politics allied to organisation that took him out onto the doors, engaging in the arguments, not just directing from the centre. I saw then, as I see now, someone who listens to people’s concerns and understands the root causes. He seeks answers and solutions, and persists in his desire to make a difference. That is what our party needs now.
When Labour’s support began to fray in the last decade, Anas could have chosen to go elsewhere. He could have returned to a profession where he could still make a difference. A young, talented man from Glasgow’s Muslim community would no doubt have been feted elsewhere if he chose to stay in politics. It is testimony to his loyalty and values that Anas remained steadfast in his support for Labour when many of his friends and in his community had turned away from us.
Born into a family rooted in the values of communal respect and support, burned by the daily, casual racism against all too many immigrants into our country, Anas may know the privilege of family prosperity, but like so many other young Muslims, he has experienced hostility and discrimination, an experience which enriches, not detracts, from his passion for a fairer society.
We can celebrate the lived experience of all who seek to serve Labour; I cannot understand why we would wish to diminish and disregard what Anas has learned. And what he brings to our Labour family.
Anas is a positive choice for me as an individual, but it is also in tune with my understanding of how we might as a party not just speak of diversity and representation but live it. I have fought all my political life, not just for those whose politics understand the need for the fullest possible grasp of how inequality manifests itself, but for our leadership, our elected representatives to do just that – to represent that diversity.
We have the opportunity to choose a young man, a talented man, a man of commitment and a man who can embody an outward-looking, diverse, Labour Party in our modern Scotland.
A choice made out of respect for both candidates and made in the certain knowledge that both will play their part in rebuilding our movement, rooted in the lives of those we seek to serve and whose first and last priority will be to win power and to use power to change lives. I am voting Anas and proud to do so.