Is Scottish Labour set for Asian leader?

Kezia Dugdale (right) has resigned as leader of Scottish Labour, a few weeks after revealing that she was ‘in a relationship’ with Jenny Gilruth, an MSP for the rival Scottish National Party

After the surprise resignation of Kezia Dugdale (leader of the Scottish Labour Party and Opposition Leader in the Scottish Parliament), Scottish Labour seems likely to elect its first Asian leader, 34-year-old Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar.

This would be the second prominent political position held by a British-born Asian, after Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London last year.

One point to remember is that this has absolutely nothing to do with an ‘Islamist’ agenda.  Though both Khan and Sarwar happen to be Muslims, their political record in office has had little or nothing to do with ‘Islamist’ issues, and when Khan’s Tory opponent Zac Goldsmith tried to make Islam an issue in last year’s mayoral election it was seen by London voters as desperate and embarrassing.

Anas Sarwar (right) with his father Mohammad, the former MP and millionaire businessman

Neither has this anything to do with the ‘hard left’.  Both Khan and Sarwar (especially the latter) are close to the Labour Party’s pre-Corbyn establishment, rather than any type of left-wing faction. Indeed this is true of the Labour Party generally.  With the odd exception such as Diane Abbott, most non-white high-flying Labour careerists are on the Blairite Right of the party, not the Corbynite Left. (A leading example is Chuka Umunna, still seen by Blairites as a future party leader.)

The same applies to many prominent gays and lesbians, who rose to prominence in the Blairite ‘New Labour’ era.  Kezia Dugdale, the lesbian leader of Scottish Labour who has just resigned, had no roots in either the socialist left or the old trade unionist right of the party.  Her latest ‘partner’ is an SNP politician, her father still votes SNP, and Ms Dugdale herself seems to have been interested in SNP and vaguely ‘progressive’ politics before eventually opting to join Labour.

Kezia Dugdale with Jeremy Corbyn, whose left-wing leadership she opposed

One of the strangest developments in British politics has been the rapid disappearance of the Scottish Labour Party that had seemed a permanent fixture of life north of the border. Perhaps because it was partly based on two other dying institutions – the Catholic Church and the trade unions – Scottish Labour aged and decayed, with dying generations failing to be replaced by new young recruits (a phenomenon that racial nationalists will sadly recognise).

During the last couple of years Labour nationwide (after losing a generation) has benefited from a flood of new young left-wing recruits, but it’s not yet clear how far this Corbynite movement, associated with a Labour faction called Momentum, can succeed in Scotland.  As in Labour’s old strongholds in northern England, Corbynism with its stress on trendy metropolitan causes seems more in tune with middle-class students and London literati than with the Scottish working class.

A young Anas Sarwar with the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat: some joke that having this photo taken is the only politically radical act in Anas’s career!

Anas Sarwar as candidate of the Labour Right will face scepticism in some quarters.  He is the son of millionaire businessman Mohammad Sarwar who built up a cash-and-carry business in Glasgow, then became a Labour MP for thirteen years until handing over the Glasgow Central seat to his son in 2010.  Mohammad Sarwar then returned to Pakistan where he was active in the conservative Pakistan Muslim League and was Governor of Punjab from 2013 to 2015, before defecting to the ‘centrist’ party Movement for Justice founded by former cricketer Imran Khan.

Anas Sarwar was educated at an elite fee-paying school in Glasgow, Hutchesons’ Grammar, and now sends his own son to the same school, despite Labour’s general opposition to private education. However it’s difficult for Corbynistas to criticise him, as their very own Diane Abbott sent her son to the private City of London School.

Nevertheless most leftwingers in Scotland are likely to shun Sarwar and opt for Central Scotland MSP Richard Leonard, an economist who worked for the GMB union before entering the Scottish Parliament last year (though Leonard was also privately educated, at Pocklington School near York).  Leonard has been using the slogan: “Let’s stop dividing people by nationality, and start uniting them by class.”  This is not only a rallying call against the SNP, but possibly also a traditional socialist’s dig at the new generation of Blair/Clinton style ‘progressives’ who have focused on the ‘identity politics’ of gender, race and ‘LGBT rights’ rather than neo-Marxist class politics.

Best of enemies? Anas Sarwar (left) with likely leadership rival Richard Leonard

The leadership of Scottish Labour has been a poisoned chalice since the resignation of Jack McConnell, who held the job for almost six years until 2007.  Ms Dugdale was the fifth person to hold the job in the ten years since McConnell (not counting various caretaker leaders).

For racial nationalists outside Scotland, Labour’s travails north of the border add up to a case study of what happens when an apparently deep-rooted political culture collapses.


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