Scottish Labour hit by race row as Anas Sarwar snubs party leader over Hugh Gaffney comments

Posted On: 
9th February 2018

A Scottish Labour MSP refused to sit next to his party leader over the failure to suspend an MP who admitted using "deeply offensive" language about gay people and the Chinese community.

Anas Sarwar sits next to Richard Leonard at a previous First Minister's Questions.
PA Images

Anas Sarwar had been supposed to flank Richard Leonard at yesterday's First Minister's Questions session in the Scottish Parliament.

But sources close to the former MP, who is his party's health spokesman at Holyrood, said it would have been a "token gesture" in the wake of the row which engulfed his Scottish Labour colleague Hugh Gaffney earlier this week.

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The Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill MP was forced to apologise and agree to attend diversity training over remarks he made at a Robert Burns Supper.

Mr Gaffney told a joke about the poet not being “bent” and used a derogatory word to describe a Chinese meal at the Labour event in Edinburgh last weekend.

A Labour spokesman said his language had been "unacceptable", but the party resisted calls for the MP to be suspended.

PoliticsHome also understands that Mr Gaffney was reprimanded by Labour Chief Whip Nick Brown last Tuesday when his comments emerged.

Mr Sarwar, who revealed recently that he suffered racial abuse during the Scottish Labour leadership contest, was among those who suggested Mr Gaffney should have been suspended.

He said: "Equality and diversity training is not a punishment. This should be compulsory for every elected member in office and for anyone who seeks office, or indeed every one whatever work place they are in. To suggest it is somehow a punishment I think is unacceptable."

It is understood that Mr Sarwar found out via a WhatsApp group that Mr Leonard wanted him to sit in the front row at the weekly First Minister's Questions clashes.

A friend said: "Anas felt that in the circumstances, it was a token gesture for him to be asked to sit next to Richard Leonard at FMQs, and he made it clear he wouldn't do so."

Speaking afterwards, Mr Leonard defended his party's handling of the Gaffney row.

He said: "Because he’s not disputing the allegation that’s been made against him. He’s admitted it and under those circumstances the appropriate action has already been taken."