ANAS Sarwar has dismissed suggestions that Scottish Labour is not a party in its own right as a “conspiracy theory”.

Sarwar, who has been Scottish Labour leader since early 2021, further refused to be drawn on whether his predecessor Richard Leonard’s exit had been influenced by the intervention of UK Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Speaking to journalists at an event in Pollok Community Centre on Monday morning, Sarwar was asked how he would respond to the suggestion that Scottish Labour is not a real party.

“I would laugh at it,” he said. “I think people need to spend a little less time on social media with their conspiracy theories and a little bit more time in the real world and recognise that after 16 years of SNP government our country is going one way and it’s not forward.”

READ MORE: 'Branch office' jibes as Keir Starmer says he sacked Scottish Labour leader

Asked what conspiracy theories specifically he was referring to, Sarwar said: “This whole ‘it’s not a true party’, this, that and the next thing.

“I think people just need to get over it and realise that the Scottish Labour party has changed, the Scottish Labour party is focused on the priorities of the people, and the Scottish Labour party is not going to play the same old games that we had back in 2014, 2015.

“We’re focused on the future, relentlessly focused on the future. People can replay the old arguments all they like, play the same old tunes all they like and sing all the same old songs. That’s up to them.

"We’re focused on the future and we’re coming for the SNP and we’re coming for the Tories, because this country needs change.”

The comments came after Sarwar refused to be drawn into saying whether he believed UK Labour leader Starmer’s intervention had been behind his predecessor Leonard’s exit from the top of Scottish Labour.

In an interview with The Times earlier this month, Starmer (below) seemed to suggest he had stepped in to force Leonard to stand aside. He said creating change in his party had required “some pretty ruthless decisions … the Scottish leader was gone two years ago”.

The National: Sir Keir Starmer said he makes no apologies (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Asked if he thought Starmer had an influence on Leonard’s exit, Sarwar said: “I don’t really want to get involved in any of that. I said last week that Richard has been nothing but a positive energy in our Labour group. He’s been doing a fantastic job as chair of the Public Audit Committee.”

Asked again if Starmer’s influence had led to Leonard’s exit, Sarwar said: “I don’t know the nature of the conversations between Keir and Richard, that’s a question for them. What I’m concentrating on is demonstrating the Labour Party has changed, demonstrating we’re ready to fight the next election.”

In October 2014, Johann Lamont resigned as Scottish Labour leader, accusing the UK party of treating hers as a “branch office”.

Tensions between the UK and Scottish Labour parties flared up in January after the Tory government at Westminster said it would intervene to prevent the Gender Reform Recognition Bill from becoming law.

Sarwar had whipped his MSPs to vote in support of the bill, but after the UK Government block, Starmer said gender reform had become a “UK-wide issue” meaning it was “for the Labour party, under my leadership, to take the key decisions”.

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