Anas Sarwar has called on Scotland’s top civil servant to “consider her position” over the Alex Salmond affair, as he launched Scottish Labour’s Holyrood election campaign.
Mr Sarwar, who confirmed his name will appear on the ballot paper under the slogan “Anas Sarwar – Labour’s National Recovery Plan”, is thought to be the first Scottish Labour leader to use their name in this way.
He said the move, which has in the past been adopted by Nicola Sturgeon and former Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, will “express confidence” as voters go to the polls in May and put the recovery plan “front and centre”.
Speaking to journalists during the first day of campaigning, Mr Sarwar said it would also “give people a direct choice between going back to the old arguments or a new kind of politics, a different kind of leader and a different focus for our parliament as we come through and recover from Covid”.
‘Huge questions for the permanent secretary’
The Scottish Labour boss said he did not want to comment on former first minister Alex Salmond’s latest legal challenge over the Scottish Government’s botched handling of sexual harassment complaints.
But he added: “The cross-party committee report which, sadly, for political ends, people have tried to ridicule, actually was unanimous in its views on the failures of government and the failures of the permanent secretary.
“I think it is not credible for us to have gone through all of that situation and for no one to have taken responsibility. So I think there are still huge questions for the permanent secretary, Leslie Evans.”
Mr Sarwar added: “I think she has some serious thinking to do and should be considering her position.”
A cross-party Holyrood committee found the Scottish Government was responsible for multiple flaws in its handling of harassment complaints made against Mr Salmond, and singled out Ms Evans for criticism, noting an “individual failing” on her part.
A Scottish Government spokesman said on Wednesday that Ms Sturgeon “retains her confidence in the permanent secretary, who has operated at all times in line with the Civil Service Code and legal advice received”.
Mr Sarwar took aim at both the SNP and the Conservatives for being “compromised” as he attempted to position his party as the opposition in waiting, rejecting any chance of a Labour-Conservative electoral pact.
He insisted the Tories are compromised “because they can’t deliver a recovery that works for everyone because they would have us go back to the failed system we had pre-Covid” and have only an “angry response on one side of the constitutional debate”.
“On the other hand you have the SNP, who will try and talk about recovery,” Mr Sarwar said. “But it’s not credible to say we’re going to come through Covid and go straight into a referendum campaign, which is going to pull our country further apart again.
“They cannot focus on a recovery that pulls our country back together. They can’t focus on a recovery that unites our country. They are blinded by their one priority.”
‘Not an expression of confidence’
Mr Sarwar also used the opportunity to hit out at Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross’ plan to stay on as an MP at Westminster if he gets elected to Holyrood.
Mr Ross, who will stand on the regional list for the Tories in May, is the MP for Moray but has promised to donate his second salary to charity if he is elected.
Asked whether Mr Ross should stand down as an MP before the election, Mr Sarwar said: “All I’ll say is this: It’s not really an expression of confidence. Ruth Davidson is vacating the seat and going elsewhere.
“He’s not willing to stand down from his Westminster seat to challenge in the Scottish Parliament. That’s not an expression of confidence.”