High-profile Scottish Labour figure Anas Sarwar was targeted for racist and Islamophobic abuse by party members, it has been claimed.
Sarwar, Labour’s Holyrood health spokesman, has opened up about two disturbing incidents during his failed bid to become leader north of the border last year.
He said one Labour councillor told him Scotland was not ready for a “brown, Muslim Paki”. Another Labour member told the MSP she could not support him as she saw a picture of his wife wearing a hijab, he alleged.
Sarwar lost out to Jeremy Corbyn-ally Richard Leonard in last autumn’s leadership contest, which was sparked when Kezia Dugdale resigned.
Leonard has announced an internal investigation and has stressed there will be “zero tolerance for racism” in the party.
Sarwar 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.”
He added: “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”.
Sarwar, whose father Mohammad was the first Muslim MP to be elected in the UK when he won the Glasgow Govan constituency in 1997, said he did not feel he lost to Leonard due to racism.
On Tuesday, Sarwar will launch a Scottish Parliament cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia in the hope that it will encourage people to see past an individual’s faith, colour and country of origin.
Sarwar said: “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.”
Other politicians have supported Sarwar for speaking out, including the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister Humza Yousaf.
A Labour spokesman 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.”