Labour’s Anas Sarwar wants to make his party they “credible alternative to the SNP”, as he insisted he would work with anyone at Holyrood or beyond to help secure Scotland’s coronavirus recovery.
As MSPs prepare to get back to work in the Scottish Parliament after Thursday’s election, Mr Sarwar said they must “urgently” focus on recovery – and not on a second independence referendum.
That is on the agenda after Scots returned a majority of MSPs who support independence, with 64 SNP MSPs elected, alongside eight Scottish Greens.
But Mr Sarwar said it was time to “stop the brinkmanship, the arguments and the divides about the constitution”.
He hit out as the Scottish Tories, led by Douglas Ross, who during the election campaign had focused on preventing a second independence referendum.
Mr Sarwar told the Conservatives: “Your campaign actually pushed people into the hands of the SNP.
“Your direct choice to make this election campaign a straight dividing line between Yes and No didn’t help to reunite our country, it has only helped to further divide it.”
But he insisted: “I am not willing to allow those constitutional divides stop us from the important work we must do in the here and now to confront the challenge that faces us.”
The Scottish Labour leader, who saw the number of MSPs his party has at Holyrood reduced by two to 22 in the election, said politicians from all parties must “urgently put the focus on the national recovery”.
He said: “I will work with anyone across our country, and anyone across our Parliament to deliver the recovery.”
Mr Sarwar said he was “making an open offer, and a big offer, to all political parties across Scotland”, but particularly to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.
He told them: “Yes we will disagree on the issue of the constitution but we can not allow that one issue that we disagree on to paralyse our politics and stop us making positive progress together.
“If you were true to your words about wanting to building a recovery, if you were true to your words about wanting to come through this most difficult year and build a stronger, fairer, greener nation, then we will work with you and every other political party to achieve that.”
He urged the First Minister: “Let’s put aside what divides us, let’s hold true to the word we gave to the Scottish people and work together in the collective national interest to deliver the recovery that means we come through the most difficult year of our lifetime and build the kind of Scotland we all aspire to see.”
His comments came as he insisted voters had sent a “clear message” to all parties that at this time they must “focus on the recovery, not a referendum”.
While his party lost seats at Holyrood Mr Sarwar said that when he took on the job of Scottish Labour leader less than three months ago “we had a huge job to do, a huge job to rebuild faith and trust in the Labour Party”.
But he said: “This is a journey, not a journey to become the opposition but a journey to become the credible alternative to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.”