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Sarwar plans shift from social policy to economy

Anas Sarwar: working in partnership with business (pic: Terry Murden)

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar told a business audience today that a 25-year focus on social policy has been at the expense of building a stronger economy.

Mr Sarwar outlined his party’s plan to build a strategy around green energy, finance and technology, and the promotion of ‘Scotland the brand’.

Taking a hint from business that the Scottish government does not understand it, Mr Sarwar unveiled an independent advisory board for economic growth, which will include key figures such as Liz Cameron from the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and Sandy Begbie of Scottish Financial Enterprise.

The advisers have been tasked with providing Mr Sarwar and economy spokesperson Daniel Johnson with advice which the party will consider as it draws up its economic growth strategy over the coming months.

Addressing the gathering in Glasgow, the Scottish Labour leader said his party is “unashamedly a pro-business and pro-growth party”.

He set out his determination to “build an economic growth plan, first working with industry to road-test it in opposition, and then “delivering it from day one in government”, in tandem with the UK Government.

He also took a swipe at the Scottish government’s income tax regime and First Minister Humza Yousaf’s plans to introduce a new 44% tax band for those earning between £75,000 and £125,140.

Mr Sarwar said there should be a “presumption against any increases to income tax”.

“I think income tax has been used as a substitute for economic growth, and it’s actually choking off opportunities and hammering families in the middle of a cost of living crisis,” he said.

“Our first minister seems to believe that someone earning more than £24,000 a year is somehow well off and has to pay higher taxes . . . that’s choking off opportunity and pushing more and more people into poverty.

“So we have a presumption against any increases in income tax, and instead want the Scottish government to focus relentlessly on economic growth.”

Labour’s presentation in Glasgow followed the unveiling by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross of his plans for the economy, focusing on education and skills, lower taxes and cuts to red tape.

Both statements come ahead of next week’s Programme for Government to be announced by Mr Yousaf.

Mr Sarwar said that “Scottish Labour is unashamedly a pro-business and pro-growth party. These are the two principles which guide Scottish Labour policy: social change and a strong economy.

“Nearly a quarter of century on since devolution, our Scottish Parliament has overseen sweeping social change, but we have been very much a social policy parliament rather than an economic policy parliament.

“And that has let down Scottish employers, weakening our potential for growth.

“With the vast powers that Holyrood has and during a cost-of-living crisis – and let’s not forget, a cost-of-doing-business crisis – it’s vital that we debate how to deliver economic growth. That’s what Scottish businesses deserve.

“Not brinksmanship or constitutional uncertainty and gameplaying, but a government that uses the levers we have in Scotland to deliver growth, a government that understands what businesses want, and a government that works in partnership with business to deliver what’s best for Scotland. That is what Scottish Labour will prioritise.”

The independent advisers are:

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