THE is­sue of race has forced it­self into the bat­tle for who will be the next leader of the Scot­tish Labour Party. Last night, sources in Scot­tish Labour were brief­ing the me­dia that more than 1,000 Asian mem­bers have joined the party since nom­i­na­tions for the con­test be­tween Anas Sar­war and Richard Leonard opened less than a month ago. Party sources claimed mem­bers had been signed up “to edge it for Anas”.

The Sun­day Her­ald has learned that 1,600 peo­ple joined Labour af­ter the party’s con­test was an­nounced in Au­gust and nom­i­na­tions opened on Septem­ber 11. To­mor­row is the fi­nal dead­line to join and be el­i­gi­ble to take part in the bal­lot. Vot­ing pa­pers will be sent out later this month. How­ever, 1,200 of those who have been added to Labour’s mem­ber­ship list had “Asian sound­ing names”, ac­cord­ing to a party source. Scot­tish Labour is un­der­stood to cur­rently have about 25,000 mem­bers. Last night, a party source sug­gested mem­bers of the Asian com­mu­nity had been re­cruited by Sar­war’s sup­port­ers to vote in what is ex­pected to be a tight con­test. “Re­ports of re­cruit­ment have been cir­cu­lat­ing in a num­ber of con­stituency par­ties and peo­ple are ob­vi­ously very con­cerned that there should be rig­or­ous check­ing of it ... Peo­ple know what’s go­ing on, the only ques­tion is whether it will be enough to edge it for Anas,” the source said.

Asked about the re­cruit­ment of Asian mem­bers, Sar­war’s cam­paign hailed a growth in mem­ber­ship. A spokesman said: “It’s ex­tremely en­cour­ag­ing if so many peo­ple have joined the Labour Party and we en­cour­age any­one who shares our val­ues to sign up and have their say before to­mor­row’s dead­line. Labour is re­vi­talised in Scot­land and if new mem­bers want to trans­form that en­ergy into power then they need to vote for Anas Sar­war.”

A spokesper­son from Scot­tish Labour’s HQ said: “The Labour Party is a demo­cratic party open to mem­bers of all back­grounds. Every day new mem­bers are join­ing us as they are in­spired by our vi­sion for a coun­try that works for the many, not the few.”

Leonard’s cam­paign re­fused to com­ment on the claims when ap­proached. Sar­war’s cam­paign has been dogged by a se­ries of con­tro­ver­sies about his wealth and life­style. He agreed to dis­pose of his stake in United Whole­sale (Scot­land), be­lieved to be worth around £4.8 mil­lion, af­ter the Sun­day Her­ald re­vealed some staff are paid be­low the real liv­ing wage and ad­mit­ted there is no trade union recog­ni­tion at the com­pany. Sar­war has also faced on­go­ing crit­i­cism for send­ing his chil­dren to pri­vate school.

The lat­est row came as he said he sup­ports per­ma­nently re­main­ing in the sin­gle mar­ket. Sar­war called on Scot­tish Tory MPs to help vote down a bad Brexit deal. The MSP said it would be a “calamity” if the party loses mem­ber­ship of the sin­gle mar­ket and said vot­ing to trig­ger Ar­ti­cle 50 was a “mis­take”. He crit­i­cised his party col­leagues, in­clud­ing lead­er­ship ri­val Leonard, who de­fied the party whip and joined the Tories to back trig­ger­ing Ar­ti­cle 50 in a sym­bolic vote at Holy­rood in Fe­bru­ary. In a speech that set out a di­vid­ing line with Leonard, he said: “We need a leader who fights a Tory hard Brexit, not one who backs them on hard Brexit.”

In re­sponse, Leonard said: “The re­sult of the ref­er­en­dum must be re­spected but the fo­cus should now be on pro­tect­ing jobs, worker and so­cial rights.”

Lead­er­ship contender Anas Sar­war

Richard Leonard

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