Anas Sarwar welcomed Labour’s “progress” in the polls but says he is not a “superhero” who could reverse a 20-year decline in just 10 weeks.
He also suggested that he considered the Tories to be a more divisive force in Scottish politics than the SNP, as he emphasised that it “matters who the opposition is”.
Mr Sarwar succeeded Richard Leonard as Scottish Labour leader in February, and a poll published on Thursday showed the party improving its showing in both the constituency and list vote, although it remains locked in a battle with the Conservatives to decide which would be the largest opposition group.
In an interview with David Mac Dougall, on our Election Hub Live broadcast, Mr Sarwar said he always recognised the scale of the challenge facing Labour if it is to return to anything close to its former dominance in Scotland.
“I’ve been in the job eight weeks. When I took over the job, just eight weeks ago, we were at 14% in the opinion polls, the Greens were making bold predictions that they were going to push the Labour Party into fourth place,” he said.
“I think we’ve seen in the eight weeks that we have made progress and we can see Labour rising in the polls, both in terms of the constituency vote but also in terms of the regional vote.
“We’ve got another week left in this campaign and I want to persuade as many people as possible that we can choose something different.”
The apparent upturn in Labour’s fortunes has often been put down to favourable approval ratings for Mr Sarwar, but he insisted he is not getting carried away.
“There’s a 20-year decline in the Labour Party vote in Scotland. I’m open and upfront about that,” he said.
I’m not pretending to be some kind of superhero who can reverse the 20-year decline in a 10-week period.”
“I’m not pretending to be some kind of superhero who can reverse the 20-year decline in a 10-week period, 10 weeks being from the moment I became leader to the day of the election.
“But what I do want to do is reverse that decline, recognise that we still have work to do, and I was, from day one, very clear that I want to work day and night to give people the Labour Party they deserve.”
Mr Sarwar ruled out any coalitions or deals with other parties but said he would work with anyone on specific issues.
“On individual issues, in the national interest, I’m willing to work with other political parties and individual politicians, because that was what our parliament was meant to be all about,” he said.
“When we created the Scottish Parliament it was meant to be a chamber where no one party had full control, and it was encouraging parties and politicians to work together in the national interest, to make Scotland a better place.
…it also matters who the opposition is. It can’t just be an opposition that wants to talk about division almost as much, if not more, even, than the SNP.”
“That’s why this election is so important. I don’t think we can come through this and put too much power into the SNP’s hands, for example, because if we do I think they will risk taking the eye off the ball to focus on a referendum, not on the national recovery.
“But it also matters who the opposition is. It can’t just be an opposition that wants to talk about division almost as much, if not more, even, than the SNP.
“It can’t just be an opposition that wants to play childish games.
“It has got to be an opposition that pulls the parliament, pulls the government, towards that focus on the national recovery, because it’s in our collective interest to come through this as a stronger and fairer nation.”