We must do better

There is no point in sugar-coating last week’s deeply disappointing EU election results.

Scottish Labour received just over 9% of the vote – the worst result in our history and by quite a distance. The stark reality is that fewer than 1 in 20 people felt they could go out and vote for us.

It is particularly disappointing that we lost David Martin as an MEP – a principled and passionate servant of our party and country for 35 years. Whilst he is owed our thanks, he is also owed an apology as it didn’t have to be like this.

Our activists too deserve our thanks for their efforts in really difficult circumstances; you were badly let down. I know how difficult this election and recent months have been for our members, many of whom sadly have left. I hope we can earn their return.

The day after the worst result in our history our leadership in Scotland said they would now support a second referendum on the EU and would advocate for remain.

If this could be said the day after the worst result in our history – one that our members and supporters could see coming – then why couldn’t it be said before the election, before losing hundreds of members, before alienating and losing thousands of supporters and before we lost our MEPs? Why wait until what looks like a nudge-nudge, wink-wink from figures in the UK leadership?

The Scottish Labour Party needs to urgently take a look at itself and change if we are to ever compete, never mind be the party of Scotland again.

I have been inundated by members expressing their hurt, anger and disappointment and asking what next. As your representative in Holyrood, I want to set out my views.

Our party is rooted in the principles of solidarity and internationalism, where we pool and share resources and redistribute power and wealth. We should, therefore, have no hesitancy in advocating unity.

Whilst constitutional or identity politics don’t drive us, in keeping with our values we should robustly challenge division, whether that be breaking away from the EU or breaking away from the UK.

We must be an unequivocally Remain party.

We must be an unequivocally pro-UK party.

We have a radical policy programme under Richard Leonard’s leadership, which is supported by our members, activists and elected members. But we will only earn the permission to be listened to on these policies if we are clear on the biggest issues of our day.

I think it is important to also recognise that this goes beyond Brexit and independence. It is about the culture of our party.

We can only advocate unity to the country if we demonstrate unity in our party.

That’s why the factionalism and division needs to stop. That is a responsibility for all of us, but the culture is set at the top and leadership must come from there too.

Rather than showing humility and reaching out, it’s deeply disappointing that those responsible for the election campaign have chosen to lash out and attack their own colleagues.

Whilst Neil Findlay and I haven’t always agreed on everything, I believe he is one of our best campaigners and performers in Parliament. I am deeply disappointed that he has decided not to stand at the next election. He will be sorely missed.

The newsfeeds and social media accounts that believe they speak for the leadership need to understand the damage they do to it and the wider party by constantly baiting and attacking our own.

The leadership must decide whether they speak for a clique or faction or whether they speak for all of our party and aspire to speak for the country.

They must do more than just say we are a broad church movement. They must demonstrate it with actions and deeds. They must reach out and do so urgently.

Our country is deeply divided, inequality and poverty are on the rise, and the perpetrators of hate are fuelling prejudice.

We desperately need a Scottish Labour Party that can rise to this challenge.

Anas Sarwar
MSP for Glasgow