Politics

Anas Sarwar slams Labour complaints process

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Media captionAnas Sarwar says he has been left “feeling upset, depressed and demoralised”

Labour MSP Anas Sarwar has hit out at the party’s complaints process after a councillor was cleared of racially abusing him.

He had complained about comments said to have been made by Davie McLachlan, which the councillor denied.

Mr Sarwar said he was only given four days notice of a hearing, then told he could not give evidence as he had not given two weeks notice to the panel.

He said he was “devastated” and that the system was “not fit for purpose”.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has also voiced concerns about the process – which is run by the UK party – and said “clearly more still needs to be done”.

A spokesman said Labour “takes all complaints extremely seriously”, and that it is “committed to campaigning against racism in all its forms”.

Following his unsuccessful bid for the Scottish Labour leadership in 2017, Mr Sarwar claimed that one councillor had told him he would not back him because “Scotland wouldn’t vote for a brown Muslim Paki”.

He said senior figures in the party had “insisted” that he name the councillor – Mr McLachlan – who “categorically denied” making the remarks.

A party investigation ultimately found there was no case to answer against Mr McLachlan, who said on Monday that he was delighted that the “false allegations” had been dismissed.

However, Mr Sarwar has now described the system used to handle the case as “deeply flawed”, saying it is “not fair on either the complainant or the accused”, “not transparent” and “not fit for purpose”.

Image copyright Getty Images / South Lanarkshire Council
Image caption Anas Sarwar said he was “devastated” – but Davie McLachlan was “delighted” the case was thrown out

The MSP said that after “15 months of little or no communication”, he was notified by the party four days before a planned hearing of the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) was to be held.

He said he was asked if he could appear as a witness, and was sent the relevant paperwork two hours before the meeting was due to begin.

However, when he arrived at the hearing, Mr Sarwar said he was “informed by an NCC representative that I could not give evidence as I had not given the committee two weeks notice of my intention to appear as a witness”.

He said he was asked to leave without giving any evidence, and that the panel had “subsequently ruled that there was no case to answer without any verbal evidence being taken”.

It is understood Labour’s position is that the proper procedure was followed, and that the panel considered written evidence from both sides before coming to their decision.

‘Deeply flawed’

In a statement, Mr Sarwar – who now heads a cross-party group at Holyrood aimed at tackling Islamophobia – said he was “left with the sad impression that Islamophobia is one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice”.

He said it was “ludicrous” that complaints made in Scotland were not dealt with by the Scottish party, calling for a “full explanation” from UK Labour and saying the party “needs to understand the message that this sends about its commitment to tackling Islamophobia and all forms of prejudice”.

He added: “It is important that disciplinary processes are fair and transparent. But it’s now clear that the Labour Party’s disciplinary process is deeply flawed and not fit for purpose.

“It is not fair on either the complainant or the accused for the process to last 15 months. It is not transparent if witnesses are not adequately informed and then barred from providing evidence.”

Image caption Richard Leonard said Mr Sarwar’s complaints should be taken seriously, and voiced concerns of his own

Mr Leonard said Mr Sarwar’s complaints “deserve to be treated seriously”, and that he is “entitled to a full explanation”.

He said: “I have said for some time now that we need to ensure these kind of cases are dealt with more efficiently and more quickly, while maintaining a fair, transparent and rigorous system. We have doubled the size of the National Constitutional Committee, the independent body which hears these cases, but clearly more still needs to be done.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously, which are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

Reacting to the NCC decision on Monday, Mr McLachlan said his “reputation and character have been badly maligned by the false allegations” and said that “I never have and never would harbour racist views”.

He added that it had been a “long and difficult process” and that “I don’t think my family and I will ever get over the stress this has brought to all of us”.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-48105247

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