Anas Sarwar has described the “liberating” effects of his electoral defeats as he revealed he considered quitting front-line politics as recently as last year.
The Scottish Labour leadership front-runner admitted that his losses had “changed” him by easing the pressure he felt as a young politician who was tipped for the top.
He said there had been “lots of periods” when he had contemplated leaving Holyrood, including early last year, but that the pandemic had reminded him that politics was “our best way of changing the world”.
In an interview with this newspaper, the 37-year-old recalled losing his Glasgow Central seat at the 2015 general election, and his 2017 leadership defeat to Richard Leonard.
Having once been widely considered to be one of the brightest prospects in his party, Mr Sarwar was asked if the weight of expectation became a burden for him.
“I think the honest answer to that is ‘yes’, and I’ll tell you what I mean by that,” said Mr Sarwar, who is battling fellow MSP Monica Lennon for the chance to succeed Mr Leonard.
“I’ve said a bit about how in the last few years I’ve kind of changed my thinking, and probably changed me as a human being and also as a politician.
“So the two hardest parts, and negative parts, of my political career, at least, were my two defeats, but I honestly believe that the most I’ve learned are from those two defeats as well.
“And see the uplifting of pressure and the release you feel and the personal confidence that you get from not having the pressure of being stuck with the ‘hope’ title or the ‘ambition’, is liberating.
“And I’ve spent the last few years, therefore, much more self-confident about being myself, about talking about the issues that impact me and people like me, and listening and learning to communities, and trying to bring communities together.
“It genuinely has given me a different perspective on politics. It’s given me a different perspective on how we conduct our politics.
“And I think it has changed me as politician and changed me as a person.”
‘Relight that passion for politics’
Mr Sarwar, whose father, Mohammad Sarwar, was a Labour MP and former Punjab governor, described how he had often considered whether his future was still in politics.
“There were periods over the last few years where I’ve thought maybe my energy, maybe my time and my ambition to want to help others and change people’s lives, can be best served not in front-line politics,” he said.
“The most recent times of that was probably early last year, where I actively thought about whether I wanted to stay in politics.
“But in a strange kind of way, Covid, whilst of course being a heart-breaking experience, whilst of course being a really difficult experience, exponentially increasing the workload and the pressure, has made me relight that passion for politics; in a sense of, it is our best way of changing the world.
“It is our best way of delivering justice and fairness and equality for all.
“So, yeah, I’m still here, still going strong.”