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Sarwar slams Labour complaint process as 'not fit for purpose'

Glasgow MSP says the investigation into his grievance was 'simply not good enough'

Labour MSP Anas Sarwar says his party's complaints process is "not fit for purpose", after a councillor was cleared of racially abusing him.

Speaking on Scotland Tonight, Sarwar claimed he was barred from giving evidence at a hearing into the allegations and said the party was sending the wrong message on Islamophobia.

Here is an edited transcript of the interview.

John MacKay: Anas Sarwar, why were you unhappy with the disciplinary process?

Anas Sarwar: Look, this has been a process that's gone on for 15 months. I was asked by the Labour Party to come forward with the name of the councillor involved in the case. I did that at their request. Over 15 months, I heard little or no information or updates. Then I received an email late on Thursday afternoon to say that a hearing had been set for Monday at 11am, and could I make myself available to be a witness. I replied back to that email, I didn't get a reply until 8.30 on Monday morning. I didn't get the relevant paperwork until just before 9am, and then when I appeared at the hearing at 11am on Monday morning, I was told that as I hadn't given two weeks' notice that I was going to appear as a witness, that my testimony could not be taken. The NCC, the national constitutional committee, that deals with internal Labour Party disciplinary matters, then made the decision that there was no case to answer. I've always made it very clear that this wasn't about me. It wasn't about one individual, it was about challenging a culture. And I just... I'm left feeling that this whole episode shows the Labour Party perhaps thinks that Islamophobia is one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice. I don't think that's good enough.

John: What evidence did you give? Any, even written?

Anas: Well, there was evidence in terms of the interview that took place with me at the time when I was asked to name the individual. There were the testimonies of the two people that were sitting with me at the time when I received the phone call. There were testimonies of those that I told on the day that this had happened. None of that evidence, it seems, was considered in the hearing.

John: The Labour Party believe, though, that there was proper process followed and the defendant insists that he did nothing wrong. Is it not a case that you're just unhappy with the outcome of the process?

Anas: The reality is you can't give someone four days' notice to appear at a hearing and then when he appeared at that hearing say, "You should have told us two weeks ago you were going to come." I don't think anyone can claim that is a fair and transparent process. 15 months without... Such a long drawn out process without any updates is not fair on any complainant, and it's actually not fair on the respondent either to have a process that is drawn out that long. It's also not acceptable, I don't think, that cases that are raised in Scotland are not heard in Scotland. It shouldn't be for a committee in London to decide what's happening in cases involving members or elected members here in Scotland. I think it's clear that this process is not fit for purpose, it needs to be reformed and it should be fully devolved to the Scottish Labour Party.

John: What difference would a Scottish investigation have made?

Anas: I would like to think that a Scottish investigation would have been quicker. It would've been fairer, it would've been more transparent. It would have realised the realities of the political situation that we have here in Scotland. The tragic thing here, John, is just five days ago, I was celebrating the fact that every political party in Scotland had adopted the definition of Islamophobia, meaning we could turn to not whether it exists, not what it means, but actually what we do about it. And at the first test, it was my own party - I'm actually distraught to even have to say this - it was my own party, an anti-racist party, a party that is rooted in the principle of equality, that failed at the first hurdle. I mean, that is just a heartbreaking reality for me.

John: The Labour Party, particularly down south, is facing accusations of anti-Semitism. Would you accuse the party also of Islamophobia?

Anas: Look, I don't like using languages around institutional racism or other things like that. I think...

John: But is that not what this is about?

Anas: I think having been through the process myself, having experienced it firsthand, I can understand why the party is in such a mess around issues like anti-Semitism. It is clear that the NCC process is not fit for purpose. It's clear that it's not fair on complainants. It's not fair perhaps even sometimes on respondents. It's simply not good enough.

John: These accusations are of a culture of anti-Semitism. Would you say that within the party there is a culture of Islamophobia?

Anas: I think it's very clear that the party at the very least have given the impression that Islamophobia is an acceptable form of prejudice in terms of how they've handled this case. Let me tell you what I mean by that. If even I, as someone who's been on the front line of Scottish Labour politics for ten years, has been a former deputy leader, a former interim leader, a leadership candidate and a shadow cabinet member, if even I can't get a fair hearing from the Labour Party, if even I can't get the adequate support in the face of prejudice, racism and Islamophobia, then I'm left feeling... What chance are those in everyday walks of life who face discrimination, what chance have they got? I think that sends a very bad signal to our community right across the country.

John: Have you had enough support from the Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard?

Anas: I'm pleased with the statements that Richard made yesterday. I'm pleased with the statements that Richard made today. I'm pleased with the solidarity that's been shown to me by my colleagues.

John: Could he have done more, though, rather than saying more?

Anas: I think his words have been right, but people will say don't judge us on words, judge us on actions. I think it's right that Richard should be at the forefront of saying, with the support of all his elected members, myself included and all our MSPs, that this process is simply not good enough. It's not fit for purpose and it should be devolved to the Scottish Labour Party for us to take action here, as was the agreement that Kezia Dugdale and Jeremy Corbyn signed as part of the autonomy arrangements for the Scottish Labour Party.

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