‘Working people will decide this election’

‘Working people will decide this election’

Anas Sarwar © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Alamy Stock Photo

With the general election just around the corner and much at stake, it’s almost impossible to lure a politician away from the campaign trail.

However, with less than a week to go, Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) and leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Anas Sarwar, took time out of his busy schedule to drop by the UNISON Scotland office in Glasgow.

He had a powerful message for union members on both sides of the border.

“UNISON members understand better than most the negative consequences of 14 years of Tory rule,” he said. “They see first-hand the damage done to the economy, living standards, the spike in poverty and inequality, and the destruction of our public services.

“And in fact they see the degradation of our political discourse, where it seems as if honesty, transparency and accountability are foreign words to this Conservative government.

“And that’s why UNISON members can play a key role in deciding this election. Or we wake up on July 5the to another five years of Rishi Sunak and the Tories, with another five years of chaos, decay and division. Or, we wake up to the news that after 14 years we are finally rid of this rotten Tory government.

“We can elect a Labour government that will change our country for the better.”

‘A direct injection of money into public services’

Like the rest of the UK, Scotland is facing horrendous NHS waiting lists – the longest since devolution – a decline in local government, cuts to education and public services generally.

How would Mr Sarwar like to see all these services revived under Labour?

“We need an immediate injection of cash into our public services, fully funded. UNISON members will know this, because they have lived with the consequences of austerity. There will be no return to austerity. I have said it, Keir Starmer has said it, Rachel Reeves has said it and it is in black and white in our manifesto in Scotland and the UK.

“There are so many things we need to do in the UK to get our public life back on track. Macroeconomics and economic stability are important parts of that, but so are fair taxation and investing more money in our public services.

“We will cut tax loopholes for non-residents to get more money into our NHS – funding 160,000 appointments a year in Scotland; we will tackle tax avoidance to put more money into our public services; we will raise a windfall tax on the oil and gas giants making record profits, helping us to reduce energy bills and create more green energy jobs across the country.

“We will appoint a COVID Corruption Commissioner whose job it will be to get our money back. Let’s not forget that when UNISON members were working on the frontline during this pandemic, this Tory government was handing out COVID contracts to their friends.”

Change in Scotland

As UNISON members in Scotland will know, local government, schools, hospitals, social care and other parts of public services are decentralised.

That’s why, Sarwar says, Scotland needs “a two-stage process for change”. The first stage is this week’s general election, the second stage is Labour winning the 2026 Scottish parliamentary election.

“In between those elections we will set out more detail on what change looks like in Scotland,” he said. “Reforming the NHS to make it fit for the future, ensuring more resources are put into the classroom to address the challenges facing our young people, a skills system to maximise people’s potential and support our economy, and creating more and better paid jobs and improving working conditions here in Scotland. We are absolutely determined to make that happen.”

Anas Sarwar speaks from a podium saying 'The change Scotland needs'

Scottish Labour Party Conference 2023 © Terry Murden / Alamy

On jobs, Mr Sarwar focuses on one of Labour’s key commitments. “One of the first things Labour would do is deliver the New Deal for Working People, which has been designed in partnership with our trade union movement and led by Angela Rayner, our UK deputy leader.”

Key goals of the New Deal include ending redundancy and rehiring and banning zero-hours contracts. Mr Sarwar adds that he has “lost count of the number of people I have met who have lost their paternity or maternity leave because they haven’t been with their current employer long enough”, and he speaks of the rise in in-work poverty and the tragedy of people who work but still have to use food banks.

To combat all this, “our New Deal gives people working rights from day one. We’re making the living wage in name the living wage in reality. We’re reforming the way the Low Wage Commission works to ensure it takes the cost of living into account when setting our living wage.

“This means hundreds of thousands of people will get a pay rise, lifting families and children out of poverty. I know UNISON members will understand the importance of making work pay.”

Further and faster

The election campaign has seen heated debates – with claims and counter-claims from the parties – about how they would finance their campaign promises. Mr Sarwar is braver than most, which is the height of his party’s real ambition.

“I realize that we still have a huge amount of work to do. We have only made promises in our manifesto that we can keep. And we have only made spending commitments that we know the country can afford at this point in time.

“But I don’t want anyone to be under any illusion that this is the height of our ambition – it isn’t. If we can get growth back in our economy and we can stop the chaos, then I want us to go further and faster and that will change the lives of working people.

“We can put honest work, dignity, respect and our public services at the centre, because that is what politics should be about – public service, not politicians thinking about themselves and their political parties.”

Anas Sarwar talks to customers in a supermarket

© Scottish Labour Party

Mr Sarwar originally worked as a dentist before being elected MP for Glasgow Central in 2010, succeeding his retiring father. He remained an MP until 2015, when he was elected to the Scottish Parliament for the Glasgow region in 2016. He has led Scottish Labour since 2021.

I ask him what advice he would give to new Labour MPs entering Parliament.

“Not a single vote has been won and not a single MP has been elected. We still have work to do,” he stresses, first. “But what I would like to say is that there is something that goes beyond politics. The first service of an MP is to his constituents and his country.

“I hope that I have shown this over the last three years, since I took over the leadership, that we have worked with humility, hard work and energy. I hope that we have campaigned in this election with humility, hard work and energy. And if any of our candidates are fortunate enough to be elected, and they have not been, but if they are, I want them to work with humility, hard work and energy.

“They must respect and return the trust that voters have placed in them. This project is not about getting rid of the Tories, or even electing a Labour government, this is about transforming our country and improving outcomes for working people. And that is what we are determined to do.”

Read more about the general elections