The door had looked firmly closed on council co-leader Jenny Laing, Lord Provost Barney Crockett and their seven colleagues after the party’s national constitution committee last October ruled they would be suspended until after the May 2022 local government election.
It was a decision long in the making, after the group had been turfed out by then Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale in 2017 for striking up a power-sharing administration with the Conservatives, propped up by independents.
But their prospects have improved dramatically since Mr Sarwar took the party’s top job in February, and he reiterated he views them as “Labour colleagues” regardless of the suspension.
Campaigning in Victoria Park, Aberdeen, he told us: “They are delivering a Labour programme and manifesto for Aberdeen and they are doing it with passion and commitment.
“I look forward to working with them in the weeks, months and years ahead.
“They are Labour party members. They have obviously gone through a disciplinary process.
“I would regard them as Labour colleagues and that’s the case I’m making.”
None of the group were at the press event, a scheduled stop near Clan Cancer Support on his battle bus tour, used to highlight concerns around the number of missed cancer screenings during the pandemic.
Pushed to confirm he would support them being Scottish Labour candidates next year, and whether he would campaign alongside them, Mr Sarwar added: “I will be here with all our Labour candidates to make sure we return Labour councillors and – I hope – a Labour council.
“We will have to wait and see if that includes the nine councillors, obviously there is a process they have gone through.
“That will continue but I say clearly these are Labour councillors, delivering a Labour programme and manifesto and talking about the issues that matter to the people of Aberdeen.”
Ms Dugdale cast out the nine councillors, who had been re-elected under the Labour banner only days earlier – as she feared their joint administration with the Tories would fail to protect the city’s poorest from further cuts.
But the banished group have argued their plans to build more than 2,000 council homes and to create jobs in the transition away from oil and gas towards net zero carbon make them dyed in the wool red.
Jenny Laing, Aberdeen Labour‘s council co-leader, said: “I am obviously encouraged that the leader of the Scottish Labour Party recognises that by delivering on our manifesto commitments my colleagues and I have brought forward a positive and progressive Labour programme for the people of Aberdeen.
“I accept that the situation we currently find ourselves in is certainly not of Anas’ making and I believe it should have been sorted out by the previous leader.
“I hope that following the Scottish election I will be able to meet with Anas to determine a way forward for the Aberdeen Nine.
“I remain hopeful that come May 2022 my eight Labour colleagues and I will be on the ballot paper for the local authority election.”
Sarwar: Work to be done to reclaim trust in north-east
But Mr Sarwar was clear there was work to be done to regain the trust of north-east voters, on top of the job being done at a national level.
He admitted: “I accept the Labour party has not been good enough in recent times, I said that on day one when I took the job.
“I am going to work day and night to give the people of Scotland the Labour party they deserve.
“I continue to do that job, I’m not pretending everything has changed, we are still in that process.”
Mrs Laing, whose group back Mr Sarwar in this year’s leadership contest, heaped praise on the Scottish Labour campaigned so far, with polling last month placing the party ahead of the Scottish Conservatives.
She said: “It is clear from the campaign so far that Anas Sarwar has brought fresh energy, fighting spirit and an impressive socio-economic policy agenda to a rather dull political campaign for the Scottish Parliament.
“The SNP and the Tories fighting like cats and dogs over flags and the constitution is not in the public’s interest and Anas is quite right to argue that the new Scottish Parliament should be totally focused on Covid-19 recovery.”