Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has joked that his deputy Jackie Baillie is his "designated bastard” in the party.

The Glasgow MSP also agreed Dame Jackie, who has a reputation as a fearsome behind-the-scenes enforcer, was his “henchman”.

The Scottish Labour leader was speaking at an In Conversation event on the Edinburgh Fringe at The Stand New Town Theatre. 

Hosting the event, sports journalist Graham Speirs asked Mr Sarwar if all political leaders needed to be “a bit of a bastard” at times to control their parties.

Mr Sarwar said: “I think niceness can work in politics. I think niceness is important.

"People vote for people, therefore you’ve got to have positive relationships.

“Have you got to have the ability to make tough decisions? Yes.

“Do you have to have an ability to sometimes say something that is unpopular? Yes.

“Do you have sometimes to pick a hard side? Yes.

“But I wouldn’t call that the word you used, I’d call that leadership.

“And I think leadership is important because… people vote for people and people want leadership and I think our country needs leadership right now, both across the UK and in Scotland, and if that means being the B-word sometimes then that’s fine.

“Although a good piece of advice somebody gave me was, You should always have a designated bastard in your team.

“People can make their own judgment about who that is on the Scottish Labour team.”

Mr Speirs asked him: “You mean you need a henchman to sort people?”

Introducing her name for the first time, Mr Sarwar replied: “I think that’s a really unfortunate way of describing Jackie Baillie.”

Dame Jackie, the MSP for Dumbarton since 1999, was elected deputy Scottish Labour leader in April 2020, when left-winger Richard Leonard was still leader.

Mr Sarwar was elected leader in February 2021 after Keir Starmer effectively sacked Mr Leonard ahead of the Holyrood election.