Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP “would love people to think England is Boris Johnson and Priti Patel”, the Scottish Labour leader has said, in a blunt warning to Keir Starmer.
Anas Sarwar has been in London this week for talks with the UK Labour leader, and warned senior party figures that Scotland was the first "red wall" to fall for Labour.
Mr Sarwar, who in May’s election presided over the party’s worst ever Holyrood result just eight weeks after taking on the role, said Scotland will be essential if Labour is ever to return to government at Westminster.
While Labour was once the dominant political force in Scotland, the party has since been all but wiped out in UK-wide elections after it lost 40 of its 41 Scottish constituencies in 2015. The party now has just one MP representing Scotland in Westminster, compared to 45 for the SNP, six Conservatives and four Lib Dems.
Speaking to the Daily Record newspaper, Mr Sarwar said: “I’ve said directly to Labour MPs, and to the shadow cabinet, that the first red wall to fall was in Scotland, not the north of England.
‘No route back’
"Unless they recognise that, until we get Labour back on the pitch again in Scotland, credible again, there is no route back to a UK Labour government.”
Mr Sarwar said that while it is up to him to “fix” Scottish Labour, it would also help if Scots believed the UK party “will win a general election”, adding: “They have work to do to get Labour into a position to do that.”
When asked how the party reverses its fortunes in the UK, Mr Sarwar said the “muscular unionism” of Boris Johnson and the “blindfolded nationalism” of the SNP do not work.
Mr Sarwar has repeatedly refused to be drawn on the issue of a second separation referendum, stressing that he opposes Scottish independence and would rather the Edinburgh parliament focus its efforts on recovery from the pandemic.
"We have got to build a credible alternative to the SNP and the Tories. It has to be a positive, unified and authentic message to voters," Mr Sarwar said.
"The SNP and Nicola Sturgeon would love people to think England is Johnson and Priti Patel. England is more Gareth Southgate and Raheem Sterling: diverse, and not scared of confronting the scars in our society.”
He added that one of the “big challenges” facing his party is “framing what Britain is”.
“It is not inward-looking, angry, culture-wars Britain,” he said. "We defeat that by being outward-looking and international and positive and that is what Labour should be."