Sarwar becomes UK’s first Muslim and ethnic minority leader of a major political party

19th Mar 2021
Sarwar becomes UK’s first Muslim and ethnic minority leader of a major political party

(Photo credit: Scottish Labour Party)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Anas Sarwar, 38, became the first Muslim and the first ethnic minority leader of a major political party in the UK after defeating Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) for Central Scotland Monica Lennon for the Scottish Labour Party leadership election on February 27.

Sarwar was born in Glasgow and is the son of former MP Mohammad Sarwar. He graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in general dentistry in 2005, becoming an NHS general dentist in Paisley until 2010 when he was elected as an MP in Westminster. However, he lost his seat in the 2015 General Election.

The leadership contest was triggered after Richard Leonard resigned as leader, saying it was in the best interests of the party for him to stand down. Speaking to The Muslim News on the historic milestone, Sarwar, who is of Pakistani heritage, said his election “does not say something about me, it says something great about Scotland and its people.”
He also spoke of his grandfather who arrived at Lossiemouth in the 1940s, “with nothing – searching for a better future.

He was meant to return home, but instead,he fell in love with Scotland and brought his own family here.75 years on from that boat arriving at these shores, he would never have imagined that his grandson would one day be elected to lead the Labour movement in Scotland.”

Sarwar, who attained 57.6 per cent of the leadership vote, takes charge of the party ahead of the Scottish Parliament election, scheduled for May 6.

After losing every Scottish and UK election since 2007 to the SNP, including losing all its MEPs in the 2016 European elections, Labour has since gone through seven Scottish leaders with Sarwar being its eighth. Sarwar acknowledged that “Labour has a lot of work to do to win back” the public’s trust “because if we’re brutally honest, you haven’t had the Scottish Labour Party you deserve. With rising injustice, inequality and division, I’m sorry we haven’t been good enough. And I will work day and night to change that, so we can build the country we all need”.

Former leader Richard Leonard congratulated Sarwar, calling for the party to get behind him.

When asked what sets him apart from Leonard’s policies, the Glasgow MSP said, “Richard is a friend who has served the Scottish Labour Party for decades and will continue to serve our movement. I’m focused on the future. In the coming weeks, we will set out our vision for Scotland”.

The Scottish Labour leadership race was short, and largely overshadowed by the Covid-19 crisis, but was more cordial than previous contests the party has held. Scotland’s constitutional future was one of the major features of the campaign, with both candidates repeatedly asked for their take on the issue.

While both have said they are opposed to the idea of Scottish independence, Lennon said that should a pro-independence majority be elected to Holyrood in May, the party would have to accept another referendum on the issue. Sarwar, meanwhile, has urged independence-supporting parties to put the issue aside and focus on making “the case for a Covid-19 Recovery Parliament with an NHS restart plan at its heart, so we never again have to choose between treating a virus or treating cancer.

We will set out a catch-up plan for our children because I won’t let a generation of young people go forgotten. And, we will set out a real vision for jobs – for now, and for the future”.

Reaction to the historic election

UK Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said, “Huge congratulations to Anas on his election as leader of the Scottish Labour Party. I look forward to working with him to secure our economy, protect our NHS and rebuild our country”.
Labour MP for Wigan and Shadow Foreign Secretary,

Lisa Nandy, said, “I’m so delighted to welcome Anas Sarwar, as the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party. The first BAME leader of any political party elected on a promise to heal our many divisions and take Scotland forwards, this is a new chapter in the history of Scottish Labour”. Scotland’s

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, led messages of congratulations to Sarwar. Despite being long-time political rivals, the First Minister admitted she “likes and rates” Sarwar after he scooped the top job.

Sturgeon tweeted, ‘Congratulations to @AnasSarwar- he (and his dad before him) and I are long-time political opponents, but I also like and rate him. That may not always be obvious in the weeks ahead as the election battle is joined, so worth saying so now.’

Scotland’s Justice Minister, Humza Yousaf, also joined in the congratulations commending Sawar for becoming the first Muslim and Person of Colour leading a political party in the UK.

Yousaf tweeted, ‘Will do politics another day, but today can I congratulate @AnasSarwar on becoming @scottishlabour leader. I think this makes him [the] first Muslim and Person of Colour leading a political party in the UK, an incredible and historic achievement of which I am proud of him for. Well done Anas.’ The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, tweeted his support,‘Huge congratulations to @AnasSarwar on being elected as the new leader of Scottish Labour. An incredible achievement. His commitment to tackling child poverty, climate change and protecting our NHS will lead the way in rebuilding @ScottishLabour’.

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