Scottish Labour leadership hopefuls hit back against Tory claims of being soft on independence ahead of election result

Georgina Hayes
·2-min read
Anas Sarwar, pictured, and Monica Lennon are running for the Scottish Labour leadership - PA
Anas Sarwar, pictured, and Monica Lennon are running for the Scottish Labour leadership - PA

Both Scottish Labour leadership hopefuls have hit back at the Tories for accusing them of being soft on independence as the party prepares to unveil its new leader on Saturday.

During a speech announcing the Scottish Conservative Holyrood campaign message on Friday, party leader Douglas Ross accused both Anas Sarwar and Monica Lennon as being “fair weather” unionists and challenged them to rule out working with the SNP.

Ms Lennon dismissed the comments as “desperate and attention-seeking nonsense”.

“The Tories are experts in dividing our communities and forcing working class people into poverty,” she said.

“People in Scotland are tired of the same old arguments from politicians who want to drag us back to 2014 rather than take responsibility for their own government records,” she added.

Meanwhile, frontrunner Anas Sarwar accused the Scots Tory leader of engaging in “playground politics” at a time when “people are losing their lives and livelihoods.”

Monica Lennon leapt to prominence after her successful campaign to make period products free in Scotland - PA
Monica Lennon leapt to prominence after her successful campaign to make period products free in Scotland - PA

“He wants to take us back to the old arguments, while I am determined to focus on what unites the people of Scotland, not what divides us,” he said.

“Scottish Labour is a home for anyone who believes we should work together to recover from Covid.”

Both leadership candidates have previously said they would refuse to join the Tories in a “unionist coalition” to thwart the SNP after Mr Ross said he would be prepared to work with Labour after the May 6 Holyrood election, but have clashed on the issue of independence.

Ms Lennon has said that she would accept a democratic mandate for a second referendum if pro-independence parties win a majority, and believes Labour should campaign for a federal option on the ballot as an alternative to independence.

Taking a harder line, Mr Sarwar has ruled out supporting a new vote for the term of the next parliament as the country recovers from Covid.

Voting for the Labour leadership election closed at midday on Friday, and the results will be announced at 11am today (on Saturday).

Meanwhile, Mr Ross has insisted that he will be able to give input into the UK Cabinet committee set up by the Prime Minister to make the case for the Union, despite not having a seat on the new group.

The committee was set up by Boris Johnson after Oliver Lewis left his position as head of Downing Street's Union unit last week.

Mr Ross welcomed the establishment of such an "extremely high level committee within Government" after the "troubles” experienced by the Tories' Union unit, and said he “will be feeding into that and the Scottish Conservative voice will undoubtedly be heard”.

The new committee will include the Prime Minister, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the secretaries of state of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.