Nicola Sturgeon has presided over unacceptable levels of poverty, Anas Sarwar has said at his Scottish Labour leadership campaign launch in the first minister’s Glasgow constituency.
Sarwar, the candidate with the largest support from Labour MPs and MSPs, insinuated he was the best-placed of the two candidates to defeat Sturgeon and her Scottish National party, and the best able to appeal to voters.
Hinting that the supporters of his left-wing rival, Richard Leonard, were more concerned with tribalism than government, Sarwar also referred to the bitter disputes over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of UK Labour. He said the contest was a choice between being a party of power or of protest.
“I don’t want to be a Scottish Labour leader who just talks about fighting inequality, creating opportunity, ending austerity and building a fairer society. I want to deliver that equality, opportunity and fairness as the next first minister of Scotland,” Sarwar told the campaign launch on Friday.“That is why, here in the Gorbals, at the start of this campaign, we are parking our tanks on Nicola Sturgeon’s lawn. This campaign is not just about electing a Labour leader, it’s about electing the next Labour first minister.
The campaigns have been given until 9 October to recruit new members at the full price of £48, or registered and affiliated supporters, who will be allowed to vote for a £12 fee. The result will be declared on 18 November.
Although Scottish Labour has avoided the open conflict between centrists and leftwingers that wracked the UK party, this contest is now being coloured by factional disputes between leftwingers and moderates backing the rival contenders.
Leonard, a former political officer with the GMB trade union who is widely respected inside the party but little known outside, is backed by the pro-Corbyn Campaign for Socialism, and is expected to win support from the largest trade unions. Corbyn is not expected to formally back either candidate.
Sarwar had been making successful overtures to Corbyn supporters before Dugdale’s resignation, hosting a large rally for Corbyn at Glasgow central mosque last month. In a clear appeal to left-wing party members, he described himself at his campaign launch as a champion of “radical democratic socialism”.
Leonard’s supporters have accused Sarwar, a former deputy leader of Scottish Labour, of insincerity, and argue that his rhetoric will lack credibility with party activists because of his wealth and lifestyle.
The son of the millionaire cash-and-carry founder Mohammed Sarwar, who became the UK’s first Muslim MP in 1997, Sarwar was privately educated and sends his own children to the same fee-paying school in Glasgow. He also owns shares in the family firm, United Wholesale (Scotland) Ltd, which has been criticised in press reports for not paying the “real living wage” of £8.45 an hour.