Anas Sarwar has emerged as the frontrunner to become the next Scottish Labour leader after being encouraged to stand by fellow MSPs.
Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart has revealed he has been among those privately urging the party’s former deputy leader to launch a second bid for the top job.
Mr Sarwar, a Glasgow MSP and former MP, was defeated by Richard Leonard in the party’s last leadership election, in 2017.
But Mr Leonard’s resignation on Thursday has now opened the door for Mr Sarwar to succeed his former rival in the post.
As well as Mr Stewart, the north-east MSP Lewis Macdonald said Mr Sarwar would be a “good candidate”, and was his “first thought and probably preferred choice”.
Bookmakers have installed the 37-year-old as the favourite in the contest, ahead of the likes of Monica Lennon, Jackie Baillie, Ian Murray and former prime minister Gordon Brown.
— Ladbrokes Politics (@LadPolitics) January 15, 2021
‘I hope he does stand’
The party’s Scottish executive committee is expected to meet on Saturday to agree the process, amid calls for a new leader to be in place as quickly as possible, ahead of the Holyrood election on May 6.
Mr Stewart said: “I supported Anas Sarwar last time around and I’ve encouraged him to stand, and I hope he does stand.
“He is a very accomplished parliamentary performer who has been, of course, our depute leader in the past, and has obviously good experience at both Westminster and the Scottish Parliament.
“He’s very good on the media, and I think he will also change tactics in parliament and make sure that he holds the SNP accountable for political failures.
“He is well-equipped to do that and I think, if he is successful in his leadership bid, he will give the party a boost in the polls, whenever the election is.”
Mr Stewart, who will stand down at the election in May, is another former MP and previously worked at Westminster with Mr Sarwar’s father, Mohammad Sarwar, who served as a Glasgow MP and Punjab governor.
The north MSP said: “On a personal level, I am very sorry for Richard Leonard, who is a really decent man, and has been a very hard-working leader.
“But clearly the poll position is depressing news for Labour politicians and Labour supporters.
“I understand the reasons for Richard’s decision. It looks like the party will make an early decision to have a leadership contest.
“I just hope that can be done quickly, and new leaders tend to give parties a boost. I just hope this can help Labour in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections.”
Richard has led our party through one of the most difficult times in our history.
He is Labour to his core, and we are all grateful for his service.
I know he will continue to fight for a fairer, more just and more equal society today, tomorrow and long into the future. https://t.co/dPmuHleCgw
— Anas Sarwar (@AnasSarwar) January 14, 2021
‘The right decision’
Mr Macdonald, another long-serving Labour politician who is due to stand down in May, also hoped that a change in leadership would improve the party’s showing.
“I think Richard has made the right decision and I hope that we will be able to take advantage of it and be better placed for the elections to come than we might have been without the change of leader,” he said.
“I’m hoping that will be the case. Of course, there is a democratic process to follow in terms of choosing who will lead us at that election.
“It’s important that the members have their say in that but I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a quick and efficient campaign in order to allow us to focus entirely on the election to come as soon as we can.”
Mr Macdonald also voted for Mr Sarwar in 2017, and said he would again be his “first thought and probably preferred choice”, although it would depend on whether he was running and who he was up against.
Mr Macdonald’s wife, Sandra, is one of the nine Aberdeen councillors who have been suspended from the party since 2017, for forming a coalition with the Conservatives.
He said: “The opportunity is there for the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party to resolve this and get ‘The Nine’ reinstated to the party, and I hope that happens.
“I think there is no reason why that shouldn’t now happen given the continuing success of the Labour-led administration in the city in dealing with very difficult times, and maintaining public services and the morale of council staff.”