The SNP has attacked what it has described as Johann Lamont’s “summer of silence” as the invisibility of the Scottish Labour leader continues to raise eyebrows.
Lamont, who replaced former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray after the party lost the 2011 Scottish elections, has failed to surface despite an ongoing scandal over the party’s selection process in Falkirk and disastrous poll results.
Despite claiming to have become leader of the entire Labour party in Scotland, the selection scandal in Falkirk that has engulfed the party has seen Lamont and the Scottish arm of Labour bypassed as party chiefs in London have struggled to get a grip on the situation.
The Scottish Labour leader is also under pressure after a recent re-shuffle highlighted splits within the Labour Holyrood group over her ‘something for nothing’ welfare stance. A recent poll indicated Scottish Labour has fallen further behind the SNP compared with the humiliation the party suffered in 2011.
In the meantime her deputy, Labour MP Anas Sarwar, has appeared to have taken the place of his beleaguered leader, fronting recent attacks on Labour splinter group ‘Labour for Independence’ which was formed by Labour party members unhappy with the Scottish party’s stance over independence.
Sarwar is also set to represent Scottish Labour in a forthcoming TV set piece with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, which will see welfare debated.
Commenting, SNP MSP Sandra White accused the Scottish Labour leader of having been “sidelined” by London party bosses.
Glasgow MSP Ms White highlighted a similar episode last summer which saw Lamont’s style of leadership criticised after she appeared to duck several issues, including the emerging scandal over Eric Joyce and her position on Trident nuclear weapons.
The SNP MSP said:
“For her to have been so invisible for a second summer in a row instead of showing any kind of leadership during her party’s crisis will only heap further pressure onto her.
“Her boss Ed Miliband has been roundly criticised for his own silent summer – but it seems she is so keen to follow London’s lead that she has decided to follow suit.
“Last year Johann Lamont also spent the summer in silence – and only emerged to launch her disastrous Cuts Commission which has done so much damage to her party’s position in the polls.
“Having spent another summer hiding from the public eye, the pressure is clearly on for her to produce something big as this summer draws to an end.
“If she cannot come up with something to lift her party out of its appalling position in the polls, the serious question mark over her leadership will only grow bigger.”
MEANWHILE, Lamont’s deputy, Labour MP Anas Sarwar, appears to have taken on the role of leading the party in Scotland. Sarwar spearheaded a recent attack on Labour for Independence after the group emerged to challenge Labour’s stance on Scottish independence.
The MP is also set to represent the No campaign in a planned televised debate on welfare to be shown by STV that will see him go head-to-head with SNP depute Nicola Sturgeon.
However Sarwar’s own commitment to the Union was called into question last month when it emerged his own father, former Glasgow Labour MP Mohammad Sarwar, had decided to quit the UK in favour of a high profile political position in his native Pakistan.
Anas Sarwar indicated he was “glad” with his father’s decision and said: “Usually it is the father that expresses pride in their son, but I’m glad to wish my father good luck as he takes up a new political challenge in Pakistan.”
Anas Sarwar, who was privately educated at Hutcheson Grammar school, ‘inherited’ his own Glasgow Govan seat from his father who had stepped down after representing the constituency for 13 years. The candidacy followed a failed attempt at entering Holyrood as a Labour list MSP.
In 2009 in an interview with the Guardian he described the Holyrood voting system as a “perfect system” and voiced his support for reform of the Westminster voting system. However he recently caused controversy by appearing to attack the Scottish electoral system and described the Scottish government as a “dictatorship”.
His father’s political career has been peppered with controversy with claims of election rigging and tax problems surfacing.
In 2010 Mohammad Sarwar was blocked from receiving a peerage after he was nominated by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The refusal followed advice from the HMRC which said there were problems with the tax situation of the former Labour MP.
In 2007 Athif Sarwar, brother of Anas, was convicted and jailed for three years for his involvement in an £845,000 money-laundering scam using the family cash-and-carry business. However he was later cleared on appeal and released.
In 1997 Sarwar senior was at the centre of bribery allegations after the News of the World claimed had paid a rival, Islam Badar, £5000 to scale down his own campaign and also bribed two other candidates.
Sarwar denied the allegations and claimed the money paid to Mr Badar, who had been handed the cash while sitting with Mr Sarwar in his white Mercedes, was in fact a loan.
Sarwar’s Labour colleague Iain Davidson gave evidence against him at an internal Labour party inquiry and told of his fears that he would suffer personal abuse from Sarwar supporters.
Speaking at the time Davidson said: “I would expect to be attacked and blamed for the Highland clearances, as well as the Irish potato famine, the Great Fire of London and the drowning of Atlantis.”
Sarwar was subsequetly expelled from the Labour party. A nine week court case found Mr Sarwar not guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice and he was eventually re-instated into the Labour party.
Mr Sarwar’s election agent at the time of the bribery allegations was Margaret Curran, who is now the Shadow secretary of State for Scotland.
His rival for the candidacy in Govan was Mike Watson who went on to become an MSP and then a Labour peer. Mr Watson was himself the subject of a scandal after he was jailed 16 months for arson after he attempted to set fire to curtains in an Edinburgh hotel in 2004.
Watson was allowed to rejoin the Labour party on his release from prison and remains a Lord.