Sarwar: Some councillors were racist during leadership race

29 January 2018, 11:08 | Updated: 29 January 2018, 11:19

Labour leadership

A Labour councillor told Anas Sarwar he could not back him in the Scottish party leadership contest because Scotland was not ready for a "brown, Muslim Paki".

Another Labour member told the MSP she could not support his leadership bid after she saw a picture of his wife wearing a hijab.

Mr Sarwar lost out to Richard Leonard in last autumn's leadership contest which was sparked by the resignation of Kezia Dugdale.

The MSP does not believe he lost due to his ethnic background but has spoken out to raise awareness about racism and Islamophobia.

Mr Sarwar, a former deputy leader of the party, said the first incident happened as he was canvassing support from senior Labour figures.

He told the Daily Record: "A leader of a Labour council group told me very clearly the reason that he couldn't support me in the leadership election was that, in his words, Scotland wasn't ready for a 'brown, Muslim Paki'.

"When I challenged him on that, saying it was a racist, Islamophobic comment, he said that wasn't his opinion, it was his fear about what his constituents believe."

Another Labour member told him she could not support his bid after seeing a picture of his wife Furheen wearing a hijab.

Mr Sarwar told the newspaper: "My wife wears a hijab and she said, based on the picture she saw of my wife, she couldn't vote for me in the leadership election."

He said his wife is "a Scot in every way possible" and that "her identity is way more than what she chooses to wear on her head".

The former Scottish labour deputy leader will on Tuesday launch a Scottish Parliament cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia.

Mr Sarwar said that in general people in Scottish society see past an individual's faith, colour and country of origin.

He added: "But what we have to challenge here is institutional racism, institutional Islamophobia, institutional sexism and homophobia. It is those institutions that need to be challenged directly."

Mr Sarwar said it was not just an issue for the Labour party but said that the party should hold itself to a higher standard.

Other politicians have supported Mr Sarwar for speaking out, with Transport Minister Humza Yousaf MSP tweeting: "Utterly shocking. Sorry to hear @AnasSarwar and his wife Furheen had to ensure this.

"Anas may feel he shouldn't name the Councillor involved but really do hope he has reported him. A person with those views shouldnt remain in elected office."

A Scottish Labour Spokesperson said: “What Anas has revealed is completely unacceptable. Labour has a zero tolerance approach to any form of racism and bigotry. This reported behaviour falls well short of what we expect from any member or elected representative of the Labour Party. 

“Labour is taking steps to ensure this issue can be thoroughly investigated, and as part of that the General Secretary is contacting Anas to identify the individual involved and take appropriate action.”