Anas Sarwar claims Boris Johnson's by-election losses undermine SNP's independence drive

24 June 2022, 11:02 | Updated: 24 June 2022, 11:55

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

Boris Johnson's by-election defeats could undermine the SNP's hopes for an independent Scotland now Labour is seen to be able to win again, Anas Sarwar has claimed.

The Scottish Labour leader told LBC News the Conservative losses in the constituencies of Wakefield in Yorkshire to Labour and Tiverton & Honiton in Devon to the Liberal Democrats, showed people across the UK wanted to "boot the Tories out" - including in Scotland.

Mr Sarwar said Scottish voters had faced a "psychological hurdle" because they hadn't believed Labour could win at the last three General Elections - but that was changing.

"When people don't believe Labour can win, the contest in Scotland becomes who can best oppose the Tories rather than replace them," he said.

"And I think people in Scotland can see that Labour is winning again, and can win the next General Election."

He added: 'What the SNP have tried to do in recent years is try and pretend that somehow that people in England are different from the people in Scotland, that ultimately, we have higher levels of morality, we have higher levels of dignity, we have different expectations of our politicians, we have different expectations of our government... essentially, these people are different to us.

"And I think these two results demonstrate that wherever you live across the UK, whether you’re Scottish, English, Welsh or Irish, you can recognise that this is a government that is devoid of any ideas devoid of any principles and we want to boot them out, and that's a big, big, psychological shift I think for the mindset in Scotland."

He continued: "The last big argument the SNP have around an independence referendum and independence is Boris Johnson's Tories. And I think if we can demonstrate to people that you can express your anger for the Tories, you can get the change you want in our country to bring democracy closer to home, but also bring economic and social powers closer to home, and change closer to home without going for independence in a referendum but by booting out the Tories in the next general election, that's a huge shift in mindset in Scotland."

Boris Johnson has been referred to as the independence campaign's "best recruiting sergeant" as polls show he is deeply unpopular in Scotland.

Last week Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched a new independence campaign with a paper which compared the UK to other small European nations in terms of GDP, wealth and poverty, claiming the figures showed Scotland would be better off outwith the UK.

She is expected to reveal on Tuesday how she intends to hold a referendum in 2023 without the support of the UK government or a Section 30 Order, which would give the Scottish Government the legal ability to hold a second independence vote. The UK government has continually refused to grant such an order.

The SNP has been approached for a response to Mr Sarwar's remarks.

However speaking from the Royal Highland Show on Friday, Nicola Sturgeon urged Tory MPs to remove the Prime Minister.

"It's a monumental, massive, humiliating vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson," she said.

"People could see it coming 100 miles off and it should send a very strong message - if not to Boris Johnson, who is impervious to all of these things given his arrogance, it should send a very strong message to the Conservatives.

"If they keep Boris Johnson, a law breaking Prime Minister who has been seen to not tell the truth, if they keep him in office, then effectively they are all becoming complicit in this. If this is not a wake-up call to the Conservative Party, then it will just prove beyond doubt that they don't have the interests of any part of the UK in mind or at heart."

Meanwhile, Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie said his party can no longer act as though it is "business as usual" following the losses. T

he West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP said Thursday had been a "difficult night" for the party, echoing the sentiments of Mr Dowden.

He also said he would vote against the Prime Minister again if presented with a choice - but he stressed the country needs to be focused on the "big issues".

"I made my feelings quite clear only two weeks ago in the vote of confidence when I voted that I had no confidence in the current leadership of the Conservative Party.

"I do believe that we shouldn't be navel-gazing and worrying about who is the current leader and we do need to be focusing on the big issues facing the country, such as the cost-of-living situation and supporting the government of Ukraine.

"But no, I don't think we can carry on as if it's business as usual."

When asked what MPs should do about their lack of faith in Mr Johnson, Mr Bowie said: "I've been in this game long enough to know that predicting anything is a fool's game. I wouldn't want to hazard a guess what is going to happen in the next hour, let alone the next day or the next week or month."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said his party was "parking its tractors on Tory lawns" after the 30% swing from the Conservatives in the Devon seat.

"It is the biggest by-election victory our country has ever seen," he said. “It’s not a fluke because it’s the third time this has happened in a year.

"It also comes off the back of our making big gains in Scotland in May’s elections. The Liberal Democrat revival is happening everywhere.

"The voters of rural Britain have risen up in revolt after years of neglect. The scale of this victory shows that from one end of Britain to the other, no Conservative is safe.

"This is a hammer blow to Boris Johnson and everyone who embarrassed themselves defending him."

Anas Sarwar said he believed Labour voters may have voted tactically in Devon to unseat the Tories.

He also said people were seeing a more confident Labour party and that people who had voted for Brexit and abandoned Labour after the EU referendum were "starting to come home".

He added: "Of course we have to be realistic and I think there has to be a recognition that there will be people that will have been perhaps Labour minded that will have thought the best way to beat the Tories was by voting Liberal Democrat [in Devon].

"But I think the fundamental lesson, I think we can't lose sight of - is I believe the Tories deserved to lose. And I think the people in Tiverton and also in Wakefield believed the Tories deserved to lose but the challenge Labour has between now and the General Election is we've got to demonstrate that we deserve to win.

"That's why over the coming weeks and months we’re going to set out what that change looks like not if you just boot out Boris Johnson and the Tories but what you get as a country and how this country changes if we elect a Labour government."