ANAS Sarwar has said Holyrood should be a “Covid recovery parliament” after this year’s election rather than one endlessly arguing over the constitution.

The Glasgow MSP said the country needed politicians who would bring people together and concentrate on jobs and the NHS instead of exploiting divisions over independence.

As nominations formally opened in the contest to find Scottish Labour’s tenth leader since devolution, Mr Sarwar revealed he had been backed by a quarter of the party’s councillors. 

READ MORE: Anas Sarwar gears up as Scottish Labour leadership contest opens

His campaign issued a letter signed by 66 councillors which described him as the “candidate best placed to help rebuild Labour” .

He also made it clear his plan for Scottish Labour was a long-term one, starting with becoming a “credible opposition” before having any chance of getting into power.

Mr Sarwar, who lost the leadership contest to Richard Leonard in 2017, is being challenged again from the Left of the party, this time by Central Scotland MSP Monica Lennon.

Ms Lennon last night entered the race suggesting she wanted to avoid a coronation for Mr Sarwar, who is the clear and early favourite.

She said: “Our members deserve to have their say about the best way to take forward our vision for a fairer and more equal Scotland. I look forward to being considered.”

Nominations close tomorrow at lunchtime and if both candidates have sufficient MSP backers the winner of the contest will be chosen by party members and declared on February 27.

Mr Sarwar, 37, said he had the required number of nominations already.

He said: "More than ever, our country needs political leadership that will bring people together. 

“The next parliament must be a Covid Recovery Parliament that prioritises people’s jobs and our NHS, so that we never again have to choose between treating a virus or treating cancer.

“Our opponents want to take us back to old divisive politics, which is why we need to rebuild Scottish Labour and then work to rebuild Scotland.

READ MORE: ​Anas Sarwar confirms bid to be next Scottish Labour Leader

“Our local councils will be at the forefront of that recovery, but they have been starved of funding for years by the SNP. It’s time for a fair deal for local authorities, and I’m delighted to have the support of so many Labour councillors who work hard every day for their communities.

“I welcome the opportunity to put my vision to members and look forward to a friendly and positive campaign that demonstrates the very best of our party.”

The councillors endorsing Mr Sarwar include the past and present leaders of Labour on Glasgow City Council, Frank McAveety and Malcolm Cunning, and Dumfries & Galloway leader Elaine Murray.

Their letter reads: "We, the undersigned, are backing Anas Sarwar for Scottish Labour Leader because he is the candidate best placed to help rebuild the Scottish Labour Party, to transform us into a credible opposition and a party that is fit for the future.

"Over the last decade, the SNP has cut local government funding, hollowed out our local public services and halted the redistribution of power and wealth to our communities.

"The Tories preach their claims of success while almost a quarter of Scottish children grow up in poverty.

"Anas will create a strong opposition to hold both governments to account.

"And he has the positive ambition for an alternative vision to rebuild Scottish Labour and rebuild Scotland, ensuring the next five years are fully focused on the real challenges facing our country through a Covid Recovery Parliament.

"As local Councillors who represent diverse areas across Scotland we know that he is committed to strengthening Scottish Labour’s position in local government.

"We welcome his commitment to bringing our movement together and believe he should be the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

"We look forward to working with him to create a fairer Scotland."