oung voters will not be driven by the constitutional question at the next election, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said as he stressed it would take “hard work” but he could be First Minister in 2026.
Speaking to journalists on the final day of the Scottish Labour conference in Glasgow, Mr Sarwar said the younger voters eligible to cast a ballot in 2026 would have been four years old during the independence referendum campaign and would likely have other issues be their political focus.
Mr Sarwar – along with UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – sought to bring the party back to the centre ground during the three-day conference, shifting away from the leaderships of Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Leonard, emphasising the party’s “pro-business, pro-growth and pro-jobs” stance.
Are we honestly saying that generation are going to base their politics on what happened when they were four? No, they’re not
“If you think about the election in 2026, today’s 12-year-olds are going to have a vote on who the next First Minister is,” he said.
“Those same 12-year-olds would’ve only been four at the referendum in 2014.
“Are we honestly saying that generation are going to base their politics on what happened when they were four? No, they’re not.
“They’re going to base their politics on what politicises them, what energises them, what enthuses them right now and over the next four years as well.”
Mr Sarwar went on to say that young people have shown more “hunger for a new type of politics”.
He added: “Their form of aspiration is really, really different from my generation and our parents’ generation.”
The Labour leader went on to say that young families, and in particular young mothers, would be a key target for his party.
Meanwhile, the Labour leader said his “strong personal view” would be for Labour councillors not to enter into formal coalition with other parties, but that they work with other groups to solve local issues.
“I don’t think we should do formal coalitions with either the SNP or the Tories,” he said.
“I think it’s right that we try and elect as many Labour councillors as possible and elect as many Labour councils as possible, but I think it makes sense for local democracy to have decisions based on what is right on those individual decisions and for local people.
“So, I’m not going to get into this game … rule out coalitions with one party but accept coalitions with another.”
The fact that, during last year’s election campaign, only Nicola Sturgeon could credibly claim she would be First Minister after the vote was an “embarrassment for our national politics”, Mr Sarwar said.
“I want us to be in a credible position that when we go into that election in 2026 … I want to be able to put my hand up when that question comes.
“But it requires us to do the hard work necessary over the next four and a bit years so we can credibly do that and have a chance of doing that.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said it was her party’s job to make sure working families across Scotland knew the party “had their back”.
She told delegates on Sunday: “We need to listen to the people of Scotland – hear their concerns – and make sure that they know that the Scottish Labour Party is on their side.
“We are not here to play at politics – we are here to help those in need and build a fairer society for all.
“We must work tirelessly until every Scot in need; every struggling family knows that we are the party that has their back.
“There is a brighter future ahead for our movement and our country – but only if we have the courage to change and to challenge the Tories and the SNP.
“It is our duty as the Labour Party to build that brighter future for the people of Scotland.
“This is our task – let’s get to work and build that brighter future, together.”