Anas Sarwar: Who is the new Scottish Labour leader?

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Anas SarwarImage source, PA Media

Anas Sarwar has been elected the new leader of Scottish Labour, replacing Richard Leonard who led the party for three years. The Glasgow MSP takes over less than three months before the next Holyrood elections.

Anas Sarwar became a member of the Scottish Labour party at the age of 16, but politics was already in his blood.

His dad, Mohammad Sarwar, was the UK's first ever Muslim MP and held the Glasgow Central seat for Labour between 1997 and 2010 - until his son Anas succeeded him.

Graduating from the University of Glasgow, Mr Sarwar worked as a dentist in Paisley for five years prior to becoming a MP.

The 37-year-old was the Glasgow Central MP from 2010 to 2015 and was firmly in the Gordon Brown camp of New Labour.

Mr Sarwar took an active role in the pro-Union campaign leading up to the 2014 independence referendum, touring Scotland in a bus with No activists.

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Image caption,
Anas Sarwar and his wife Furheen in 2017 - the couple have three children together

After the Glasgow Central seat was won by the SNP's Alison Thewliss in the 2015 general election, Mr Sarwar turned his attention to Holyrood and was elected a list MSP for Glasgow in 2016.

As has often been the case for Scottish Labour in the last decade, the party faced a leadership election in 2017 after Kezia Dugdale quit and Mr Sarwar was pitted against Richard Leonard.

It was a rancorous campaign and Mr Sarwar faced criticism over his children attending a fee-paying school in Glasgow, with questions also raised over his family's cash-and-carry firm advertising jobs that paid less than the "real" living wage of £8.45 an hour.

Mr Leonard won the race, becoming the first Scottish Labour leader to come from the left of the party.

The victory firmly reflected the party's membership make-up at the time; Mr Leonard was a firm supporter of the UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn whereas Mr Sarwar had signed a letter opposing Mr Corbyn's bid for re-election.

Mr Sarwar's most high profile role as an MSP was as Scottish Labour's health spokesman and he played a key role in the concern over safety issues at Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital which led to a public inquiry.

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Image caption,
Mr Sarwar congratulating Mr Leonard after his victory in 2017 after an acrimonious leadership contest

Mr Sarwar will be the first non-white leader of a major political party in the UK and has spoken in the past about the racism he has experienced as a politician.

This included death threats made against his family.

Following his unsuccessful leadership bid in 2017, Mr Sarwar claimed that one councillor had told him Scotland would not vote for him because of his religion and the colour of his skin.

A party investigation ultimately found there was no case to answer but Mr Sarwar was critical of Scottish Labour's complaints system which did not allow him to give evidence at the hearing.

Rebuilding process

In 2018, Mr Sarwar established the Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia.

In his pitch to party members, Mr Sarwar said he wanted to "rebuild Scottish Labour, and then rebuild Scotland".

The Glasgow MSP has also taken a firm stance against the prospect of another independence referendum which he claims is not credible as the country rebuilds after Covid.

The immediate concern for Mr Sarwar is May's Holyrood election where party strategists are hoping the new leader can lift them from third to second place in Scottish politics.