New Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has announced his frontbench team as he aims to stop the SNP from winning a majority in May’s Holyrood election.
Mr Sarwar said his priorities were to “rebuild the Labour Party” and try to win as many seats as possible at the upcoming parliamentary election, but acknowledged his party was “in a difficult place” with polling suggesting an SNP outright majority.
He has appointed fellow leadership contender, Monica Lennon, to be Scottish Labour’s economy and fair work spokeswoman and promised the party will “obsess” about a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to the media after his frontbench was confirmed, Mr Sarwar said: “A key part of our manifesto is going to be around how we reshape and rebuild our economy to take on the structural inequalities in our society.
“One of those structural inequalities that exist in our societies is around the unfairness for women.
“That has been further exacerbated and highlighted by this pandemic and that’s one of the reasons why I want Monica Lennon to do that role, because I want this to be a significant part of our election campaign.”
Deputy leader Jackie Baillie will take over the health and social care brief, previously held by Ms Lennon, while continuing as the party’s representative on the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation of Alex Salmond.
Former leader Richard Leonard “didn’t feel that he wanted to come back on the front bench”, Mr Sarwar explained, but said his predecessor “has been nothing but supportive and warm” to him.
Mr Sarwar has also given two “campaign cabinet” roles to candidates currently seeking to be elected to Holyrood for the first time, with Dundee councillor Michael Marra being given the education portfolio and disabled rights campaigner Pam Duncan-Glancy tasked with social security issues.
Former government minister Sarah Boyack is making her return to a frontbench role as environment, climate change and land reform spokeswoman, replacing Claudia Beamish who will become spokeswoman for the COP26 climate change summit due to be held in Glasgow later this year.
With the May 6 election less than 10 weeks away, Mr Sarwar shunned the “macho” premise of claiming Scottish Labour could be victorious and said: “I want to be honest and upfront with people; if you look at where we are in the polls, we are in a difficult place.
“Of course, I am working to win as many seats as we can in May. Of course, I would love for us to win the election and me but I’m also a realist about where we are right now.
“The pathway that I want to take the Labour Party is its survival to relevance to credible opposition to a credible alternative.
“I think that’s a pathway that’s going to probably take longer than 10 weeks, but it’s a pathway that we can deliver on over the next five years.
“So I do want us to be a credible opposition and I do think we can stop an SNP majority.”
Asked about tactical voting in May, Mr Sarwar said: “I think there is going to be lots of political parties talking a lot about tactical voting over the next 10 weeks, and what my appeal to people would be is rather than tactical voting, vote for what you think is in the best interest for our country.
“And if you think, the best interests of our country is to focus on what unites us, not what divides us, I want you to vote Labour.”
Mr Sarwar also revealed he will be addressing the parliamentary Labour Party on Monday evening and said: “I am not going to be shy about what I say to them, and will be quite robust in what I think they need to hear, and what they need to understand about Scotland, and about the Scottish Labour Party.”