Anas Sarwar and Monica Lennon have both ruled out joining a “unionist coalition” after Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said he is willing to work with other parties to take on the SNP.
Mr Sarwar and Ms Lennon, who will face off to become Scottish Labour leader after nominations closed on Tuesday, declined an offer from the Tory boss to work together ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections in May.
Former Labour leader Richard Leonard, who resigned from the post last week following months of speculation about his future, refused to work with the Conservatives on previous campaigns.
‘No, I won’t’
Mr Ross said on Tuesday he would be willing to be part of a coalition to take on the SNP and halt the push towards a second referendum on Scottish independence.
If it means stopping the SNP and their push for indyref2, I would be part of a unionist coalition.
The last Scottish Labour leader wouldn’t work with us.
— Douglas Ross MP (@Douglas4Moray) January 19, 2021
He said on Twitter: “If it means stopping the SNP and their push for indyref2, I would be part of a unionist coalition. The last Scottish Labour leader wouldn’t work with us. Will you @AnasSarwar @MonicaLennon7?”
Mr Sarwar was the first to decline the offer and said he would instead focus on rebuilding the country.
He said: “No, I won’t. A quarter of Scottish kids are growing up in poverty while you and the SNP divide our country.
“Instead I will focus on bringing people together and rebuilding our country – not a return to the divisive politics of old.”
No, I won't. A quarter of Scottish kids are growing up in poverty while you and the SNP divide our country.
Instead I will focus on bringing people together and rebuilding our country – not a return to the divisive politics of old. https://t.co/fiDEwmqZTu
— Anas Sarwar (@AnasSarwar) January 19, 2021
Ms Lennon responded to the offer from Mr Ross, who has a second job as a professional football referee, just minutes later and said while it was “very flattering”, it would be a “red card” from her.
She added: “See you on the campaign trail where we’ll be fighting for radical social and economic change, not a political agenda that looks after the wealthy few.”
That’s very flattering Douglas ☺️but it’s a red card from me.
See you on the campaign trail where we’ll be fighting for radical social and economic change, not a political agenda that looks after the wealthy few. https://t.co/X0ppjBhGX8
— Monica Lennon (@MonicaLennon7) January 19, 2021
‘My priority is Scotland’
The two Scottish Labour leadership hopefuls have vowed they will make decisions independent of the UK party.
Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, they both said their focus would be on rebuilding the country by making decisions independent of Sir Keir Starmer.
Ms Lennon said: “My priority is Scotland and Scottish Labour’s role in reforming Scotland and making Scotland a fairer country.
“I’m not obsessed about party structure but do think the party needs reform.
“We are going through a pandemic, the country is in turmoil and we have got a job to do across the Labour and trade union movement.
“Ultimately, this is a job that I’m applying for in Scotland, to lead the Scottish Labour Party.”
Mr Sarwar said: “I will respect Keir Starmer, I will support Keir Starmer in helping him to become prime minister across the UK, but I will be my own person and I will do what is right for Scotland, and I will not be afraid to tell him and my colleagues in Westminster when I think they are getting it wrong.
“I will always put Scotland first.”
Both candidates reiterated their opposition to a second independence referendum in the near future, saying they would rather focus on rebuilding the country after the coronavirus outbreak.
Ms Lennon has previously said she is not opposed to another ballot, telling the broadcaster on Tuesday: “I’m not against democracy.”