By Lewis McKenzie and Alison McCallum
The real VIPs during COP26 are the people of Glasgow, according to Anas Sarwar, as he met with cleansing workers to discuss the waste crisis in the city.
The Scottish Labour leader joined Chris Mitchell from the GMB trade union less than a mile from the COP26 venue.
Just days ahead of the start of the UN climate summit, talks are taking place to try to avert strike action by cleansing workers over a pay dispute.
At FMQs on Thursday, Sarwar challenged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over the city’s readiness and cleanliness for COP26.
The First Minister hit back at the Scottish Labour leader, accusing him of “talking down” Glasgow.
But speaking to STV News on Friday, Sarwar described Sturgeon’s comments as “shameful”.
He said: “I’ve been hearing directly from cleansing workers about the challenges they face every single day, about the waste crisis we have in this city, about the fact there’s over a million rats in the city, we’ve got fly-tipping on the rise.
“And the point they’re making directly is while we lecture the world on the global environment, we are neglecting the local environment.
“And the language that the First Minister has chosen to use saying that somehow this is is talking down Glasgow is frankly shameful.
“She is running down Glasgow. People talking about the challenges they face, talking about the day-to-day lived experience of Glaswegians isn’t talking down Glasgow, it’s talking about the challenges Glaswegians face and that’s real politics.
“Real politics is local, real politics is making sure people have safe streets, secure streets, clean streets and they don’t have a waste crisis living amongst them and that’s what she should be confronting.”
Sarwar that the challenges in the city of Glasgow have got to be confronted.
He said: “We’re going to clean the bits where the VIPs are going to go. The real VIPs here are the people of Glasgow.
“They have to live here every single day. Glasgow is the greatest city on earth, I love Glasgow, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the challenges in the city of Glasgow.
“We’ve got to confront the challenges in the city of Glasgow and recognise that it’s political decisions by the SNP both at Scottish Government level and at a local government level to cut local government budgets, to cut cleansing budgets and you see the consequences for yourself.”
Chris Mitchell said that cleansing workers in Glasgow deserve a pay rise following their hard work during the pandemic.
He said: “At the end of the day, we were called critical workers, essential workers, and key workers.
“Fourteen months have been absolutely hell for these workers and I think the Scottish Government and Cosla should do the right thing and pay them a decent pay rise that they deserve.”
Mr Mitchell also extended the offer to politicians across the parties to meet with him to see the extent of the cleansing crisis.
He said: “I’ve offered every party to come out. We spoke to the Greens a number of weeks ago, we spoke to the SNP and now Anas Sarwar. It’s great that’s he’s come out to see the conditions that we’re facing.
“I’d open up this invitation to every politician in the city. Yesterday’s comments by Nicola Sturgeon saying that we’re talking down the city is nonsense.
“I live in the city, I work in the city. Come out with me and end this myth, I’ll show you exactly the conditions that my members are facing every single day because of horrendous cuts being placed upon the cleansing budget year in and year out.”
Mr Mitchell said he hopes the Scottish Government and Cosla will “do the right thing” by agreeing a pay deal for workers.
And he rejected suggestions by Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken that the current crisis had been caused by the pandemic.
He said: “It’s nothing to do with the pandemic, these cuts were happening well before the pandemic, and so was the waste crisis.
“It’s been in decline for the last five years. I’m not blaming anybody, what I’m saying quite clearly to these politicians [is] if you care about this city that you live in and you take care of, then come out and I’ll show you exactly the conditions that we are facing on a daily basis because it is horrendous.
“I’m hoping that they do the right thing, really honestly. COP26 is coming here, this is going to be a legacy for this city.
“Will it be for all the right reasons, or for all the wrong reasons? That is the question.”
He added: “It shouldn’t take a climate conference for this city to be clean, this city should be clean all year round, every year, because at the end of the day, I hope there’s not a sticking plaster getting taken off Glasgow when all these leaders and delegates leave.”