Anas Sarwar: Scotland will be at the heart of a UK Labour government

The Scottish Labour leader used the word 'change' more than 60 times throughout his hour-long speech on the first day of his party's conference in Glasgow.

Anas Sarwar: Scotland will be at the heart of a UK Labour government Getty Images

Scotland will be at the heart of the next UK Labour government if the party wins the general election, Anas Sarwar has promised.

Delivering the keynote speech on the first day of the Scottish Labour Party conference in Glasgow, Sarwar pledged to bring back “hope and trust” to politics.

Attacking both the SNP and Conservative governments, he positioned Labour as the only party for change both in Scotland and across the wider UK, using the word more than 60 times during his hour-long speech.

He accused the Scottish Government of presiding over “managed decline” in Scotland as he pointed to declining education performance, increasing NHS waiting times and strained local authority budgets.

‘The SNP and Tories have become frenemies’

He said the SNP and Conservatives had become “frenemies” as they looked to blame each other for the other’s failings.

Sarwar accused the Tories of being responsible for soaring mortgage rates in the UK and said the party would rather focus on fighting the so-called culture wars than solve issues such as the economy, which is now in recession.

Five more years of a Conservative government, Sarwar said, would be an “unbearable nightmare”.

The conference is likely to be the party’s last before the next general election, expected sometime this year.

And it comes just a day after Labour won two by-elections in England as polls give them a 20-point lead over the Tories.

“Our opponents don’t want change,” he told party members in Glasgow. “They are the parties of the status quo – Scottish Labour is now the only party of change.”

The Scottish Labour leader said his party would put the economy first as he accused the SNP of being “anti-aspiration” and “anti-business”.

If his party wins the 2026 Holyrood elections, he pledged to be “responsible” with public money, claiming the SNP has been “reckless” – pointing to the delayed and over-budget ferries at Ferguson Marine and the near-£11,000 data roaming bill racked up by former health secretary Michael Matheson.

“The Tories have crashed the economy and the SNP don’t understand it,” he said.

Sarwar said Holyrood had been a “social policy parliament, rather than an economic policy parliament” since its founding.

The Scottish Labour leader said it was important to acknowledge where the Scottish Parliament has “fallen short”.

He said a future Labour first minister could “reset” the parliament to its “founding principles”. Sarwar said his political opponents have failed to make devolution work for Scotland.

“Holyrood has overseen sweeping social change, from the smoking ban to same-sex marriage to free personal care, but we have been very much a social policy parliament, rather than an economic policy parliament- that has let down Scottish employers and Scottish workers,” he said.

Anas Sarwar said his opponents have failed to make devolution work for Scotland.iStock

Social change, Sarwar told party members, “is only possible with a strong, growing economy” as he accused the Scottish Government of using taxation as a “substitute” for economic growth, adding there needs to be a “new business case for Scotland”.

‘Labour won’t turn off the taps on Scotland’s oil and gas’

He said his party would not “turn off the taps” on Scotland’s oil and gas industry if it came to power.

He said: “Let me be clear, oil and gas will play a role in the energy mix for decades to come – we will not turn off the taps – but we will also accelerate the transition to net zero.

“We will upgrade the UK energy grid, invest in Scotland’s ports, capitalise on new technologies, and use Labour’s ‘British Jobs Bonus’ to create quality supply chain jobs right here in Scotland.

“We will make our country the winner in the race for the next generation of clean energy jobs and cheaper energy bills – not sell off our seabed on the cheap.”

He urged voters, regardless of their previous votes on Scottish independence, to back Scottish Labour and Keir Starmer.

“While we may disagree on the final destination for Scotland, I believe we can all agree we need change right now,” he said.

“So let’s go on this part of the journey together and deliver that change and get rid of this Tory Government.”

Responding to Sarwar’s speech, Scottish Conservative chair Craig Hoy said the Labour leader’s “boasts about growing the Scottish economy” are “fatally undermined” by Labour’s planned windfall tax on oil and gas firms.

The Tory MSP said the “economically illiterate policy” had prompted a “huge and justified backlash from business groups” in the north east of Scotland.

Hoy continued: “Anas Sarwar had some nerve claiming to offer change from the disastrous SNP Government, when he and his Labour MSPs have voted with them on so many issues, including oil and gas, gender self-ID and tax rises.

“This presumptuous speech offered nothing new or inspiring for communities across Scotland.”

Meanwhile SNP MSP Rona Mackay said: “Yet again Anas Sarwar has stood up and delivered no vision, no plan and no policies to the people of Scotland.

“Instead we were treated to more slogans, more catchphrases and nothing of substance.

“The only thing for certain was that Anas Sarwar doubled down on the fact that his party will decimate our energy industry and leave thousands of workers behind.”

She added: “The contrast with an SNP Government delivering for everyone in Scotland couldn’t be clearer.

“The SNP is lifting children out of poverty, supporting households through the Westminster cost-of-living crisis, delivering a just transition and tackling NHS waiting lists.

“Those are our priorities.

“The SNP takes our instructions from the people of Scotland, delivering every day in government and building our positive vision for an independent nation, free from Westminster governments for good.”

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