Sarwar would rather see a Tory MP elected than an SNP victory, claims Swinney

Anas Sarwar would rather see Conservative MPs than SNP MPs elected, John Swinney has said after Labour rejected calls to back his party to beat Douglas Ross.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has urged Labour to back his party in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East – where the Labour candidate was suspended and stripped of party support – to ensure Douglas Ross does not win the seat.

The outgoing Scottish Tory leader announced in June he would stand in the stead of former MP David Duguid – who was barred by party bosses over ill health.

But Mr Sarwar rejected the call just hours after it was made.

Anas Sarwar, with one hand raised, speaking in front of Labour 'vote for change' signage
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said he will only call on people to vote Labour (Jane Barlow/PA)

“I am the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, I want people to vote Scottish Labour,” he said during a visit to Inverclyde on Tuesday.

“Scottish Labour is invested in every part of the country, so if you want to get rid of the Tories, if you want Scottish Labour representation, if you want Scotland to be at the heart of a Labour government, then you need to vote Scottish Labour – and that’s what I’m calling on people to do.”

He said the Aberdeenshire North and Moray East seat is a “specific issue” due to the suspension of Andy Brown, and he said his “only regret” is that voters there do not have the chance to support Labour.

But speaking to the PA news agency on the campaign trail in Aviemore, in the Highlands, later in the day, the First Minister said: “I think Anas Sarwar has just betrayed what he’s all about – he’d rather have a Tory than the SNP.

“Anas Sarwar has given a really important bit of clarity to the people of Scotland that the Labour Party prefer the Tories, and we can see that from their policy programme because the Labour Party are going to continue the Tory austerity that’s done such damage to our public services and our public finances.

“Only SNP MPs will campaign against austerity and protect Scotland and Scotland’s interests from austerity.”

Mr Sarwar, meanwhile, said the SNP views Scotland as “one big tactical block”.

He added: “(They believe) somehow Scots don’t have an opinion of their own or Scots don’t have a view of their own, or Scots haven’t lived the consequences of 14 years of the Tories or 17 years of the SNP.

“The reason why so many people are moving away from both the Tories and the SNP is because they look at two governments that have utterly failed the people of Scotland.”

Mr Sarwar later told the PA news agency he would “let (the SNP) play the protest here”.

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said: “Pro-UK voters in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East know that only the Scottish Conservatives can beat the SNP and end their independence obsession for good.

“This seat will be extremely close, and a vote for any party other than the Scottish Conservatives – including Reform, Labour or the Liberal Democrats – just increases the chances of the SNP sneaking in by the back door.

“The same applies in key seats up and down Scotland where it’s a head-to-head between the Scottish Conservatives and the SNP.”

Shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray said: “This is ludicrous from Stephen Flynn who has cut an increasingly desperate figure during the campaign. While the SNP spends its time attacking the Labour Party, we are relentlessly focused on getting rid of this disastrous Tory government on Thursday.

“Only one party can kick the Tories out of Downing Street and deliver the change that Scotland desperately needs, and that is Labour.”

Also on Monday, Mr Swinney wrote an open letter to voters telling them the election in Scotland is on a “knife edge” between his party and Labour, and urging them to vote SNP for a “better future”.