Scottish Labour leadership hopeful Anas Sarwar has said he wants to become a “symbol of hope” to people of colour as he aims to become the UK’s first political party leader from a non-white background.
Mr Sarwar, who is of Pakistani descent, said his election as leader of his party would send a strong message about Scotland being a welcoming place to live.
Speaking to the PA news agency after nominations for the contest closed, Mr Sarwar said racist abuse he has suffered in the past, either due to his own career as a politician or aimed at his father Mohammed Sarwar, the first Muslim MP in the UK, only made him more determined.
Speaking about his campaign for leadership, he said: “I think it’s a symbol of hope to minority communities across the UK, but I hope in the wider world, about what can be achieved if we are bold, if we are ambitious.”
Mr Sarwar, who gained the backing of 15 of his 23 MSP colleagues and Ian Murray – Scotland’s sole Labour MP – in the contest, said this would show the type of place Scotland is.
“Of course it would be a great personal honour for me, but I think it also sends a really strong message about Scotland and the kind of Scotland we want to build that someone who looks like me, someone that sounds like me… that someone like me can potentially lead a mainstream political party in Scotland and stand in an election with the ambition of one day being First Minister of our country, I think that says something about this great country of Scotland,” he said.
“I’m only able to do it because of how great Scotland is.”
Mr Sarwar has not been shy about the racist abuse he has suffered as a result of his profile.
When asked how he would handle what would most likely be an increase in such abuse, Mr Sarwar said he and his family were used to the vitriol.
“If I’m honest with you, I’ve grown up with the threats of the far-right,” he said.
“I have grown up with abuse and intolerance and hatred. My father was the first Muslim MP in the UK.
“Abuse, threats and violence were a common thread growing up and whilst the more aggressive forms of prejudice and racism maybe have reduced in terms of what happens out there on our streets, undoubtedly social media has meant that we now have those prejudiced views fomenting and gaining momentum.
“I’m alive to that threat, but that’s something that spurs me on, it encourages me, it makes me more determined – it doesn’t put me off – because I’m not willing to let these people win.
“Instead I think we’ve got to try and build a wave of unity to defeat those who would want to divide us a part.”