Anas Sarwar believes he represents the future of Scotland as he sets his sights on making Scottish Labour a “credible opposition” at Holyrood after Thursday’s elections.
The Scottish Labour leader said he believes their “national recovery plan” has struck a chord with voters who want the next parliament to “rebuild the country we all love”.
With polling day looming, Sarwar argued he is leading a “future-looking Labour Party” into the election and one focused on recovery from the coronavirus pandemic rather than the prospect of another “divisive” independence referendum.
Elected as his party’s leader just 10 weeks before the Holyrood election, Sarwar said he was pleased with how the campaign has gone, suggesting Scottish Labour is the only party that has “tried to reach out to people no matter what their view of the constitution or their political history”.
He told the PA news agency: “Anyone that is looking at us can see that we are a future-looking Labour Party.
“I think I represent the future of the Labour Party and – I hope – also the future for Scotland.
“That’s the case I want to make in these last few days [of the campaign], but also over the course of the next parliament, so we can build that credible alternative and rebuild the country we all love.”
Recent polling indicates Sarwar is both more popular and better known than his predecessor Richard Leonard, and second only to Nicola Sturgeon among Scottish political leaders in terms of net favourability.
Scottish Labour has had 10 leaders during the devolution era but Sarwar insists he wants to be in the job “for the long haul”.
He said: “There have been deep divisions in the past but I think over the course of this campaign, you’ve seen a very unified Labour Party, unified around the policy programme, unified around a positive, energetic, outward-looking campaign, but we’ve got work to do.
“I don’t want to just oppose the SNP, I want to build a credible alternative to the SNP, and I think people can see we’re doing that.”
Having shunned the “typical macho suggestion” he could become First Minister following the election on May 6, Sarwar is instead aiming to overtake the Scottish Conservatives and become Holyrood’s second-largest party while depriving the SNP of an overall majority.
Speaking at a campaign event in Edinburgh on Tuesday, he said: “I’m taking the party on a journey and I want people to go on that journey with me.
“I want us to build a credible alternative so we can have a Labour government, and we can have a Labour first minister.
“I say directly to people: I know the process of changing the Labour Party isn’t complete, we’ve still got work to do, but if you like what I’m saying and you agree with me, please use both your votes for Labour.”
Addressing the prospect of another vote on Scottish independence during the next parliament, Sarwar said: “The idea that we can focus on a referendum, put all our energy into a referendum and not focus on the recovery coming through Covid just isn’t credible.”
He added: “It would require the entire concentration of the office of the First Minister, of the Government, of the Parliament, of the civil service, to plan and run the referendum, and then the aftermath of any referendum as well.
“Would we not much rather prefer that energy going on to protecting people’s jobs? Would we not prefer that energy was on restoring our NHS, or renewing our education system to be the best in the world again?”
Arguing it is the “political bubble” – rather than the public – who are focused on whether or not there should be a referendum, Sarwar said it was “disconnected from the big challenges facing this country” as a result of the pandemic.
Calling for politics to be “rooted in the real world”, he said: “This is cheap game-playing politics that we have; creating binary choices and exaggerating differences.
“We have the politics of disliking as well as disagreeing, but I think we can do our politics better than that.”