Scottish Labour conference

‘We’re pro-business’ says Sarwar despite attacks

Anas Sarwar: we can bring back hope (pic: Terry Murden)

Anas Sarwar has claimed Scottish Labour is pro-business while at the same time backing a range of employment measures and energy policies that have drawn criticism from business leaders.

Addressing his party’s conference in Glasgow, the party leader insisted Labour is “an unashamedly pro-growth, pro-business, pro-worker party”.

He also pledged to cut tax for middle-income earners and said the Scottish Government had “resorted to using income tax as a substitute for economic growth”.

He said: “This is choking off opportunity and hurting families and companies in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and a cost-of-doing business crisis.

“It is failing businesses in Scotland. Spurred on by the anti-growth Greens, the SNP has become an anti-business, anti-aspiration party.”

He ridiculed the SNP for labelling those earning more than £28,000 as being among those with the broadest shoulders who should pay more tax.

However, the conference opened as more than 800 business leaders signed a letter criticising Labour’s energy policies, and trade groups in London raised concerns about the UK party’s plans for a range of worker’s rights.

Mr Sarwar defended the party’s plan to extend the windfall tax on oil and gas companies despite claims in the north east that it signalled a betrayal of the oil and gas industry.

He noted that the “energy giants recorded profits of £33 billion last year” and insisted that investment would be made in the UK’s energy grid and Scotland’s ports while a “British jobs bonus” would create supply chain jobs in Scotland.

His comments were delivered with Chris O’Shea, chairman of British Gas owner Centrica, among 150 business leaders in the audience at the SECC.

Mr Sarwar said Labour’s policies will lower energy bills and that a publicly-owned, energy generation company, GB Energy, will be headquartered in Scotland.

The Labour leader spoke for just under an hour during which he used the word “change” more than 60 times, or once per minute, but was light on setting out concrete policies.

He criticised the SNP Government for a list of “failures”, including its handling of the over-budget Calmac ferries contract, and accused the UK Government of “financial mismanagement on a monumental scale”.

“So it falls to us – and only us, the Labour Party – to bring back hope for our country, and the sooner we get rid of this entire shower of Tories, the better,” he said.

Putting his foot in it: A hole opened up on the stage as Anas Sarwar was speaking, prompting some nervous giggles from party members sharing the stage (pic: Terry Murden)

SNP MSP Rona Mackay accused Mr Sarwar of having “no vision, no plan and no policies”. She said: “Instead we were treated to more slogans, more catchphrases and nothing of substance.

“The only thing for certain was that Anas Sarwar doubled down on the fact that his party will decimate our energy industry and leave thousands of workers behind.”

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “It speaks volumes that in the course of a 7,000-word speech, Anas Sarwar made one passing reference to Scotland’s oil and gas sector.

“His boasts about growing the Scottish economy and reducing energy bills are fatally undermined by Labour’s desire to shut down this crucial industry and the 100,000 jobs it supports.

“Keir Starmer’s economically illiterate policy – the same as the SNP’s – has prompted a huge and justified backlash from business groups. Only the Scottish Conservatives will stand up for communities and jobs in the North East.”

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