This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

As much as Anas Sarwar’s first speech of 2024 was about this year's general election, it was also the start of Scottish Labour’s campaign for the next Holyrood vote.

To prepare, he told supporters in Rutherglen he was “reconstituting” the shadow cabinet.

While that sounds a bit like what fast food joints do to their chickens, Labour spinners were quick to assure us that no MSPs would be hurt in the process. 

It’s not a reshuffle, nobody will lose their jobs, instead, they’ll be expected to do a bit more. 

After he took over from Richard Leonard, Sarwar stopped holding regular meetings of the top team, instead opting for weekly meetings of the entire Labour group.

That’s going to change. Labour believe they’re well placed to jump from third to first when Scots come to vote in 2026. 

While those meetings of the 22-strong group will still take place, there will also now be a shadow cabinet where the party’s 12 senior frontbenchers get together. 

They will be charged “not just with holding the SNP to account, but with setting out a bold vision to reform and renew our country”. 

It’s a seemingly small change, but a significant one for the party’s mindset. Labour is preparing for government, not for opposition. 

Read more:

UnspunJames McEnaney: Trouble brewing as new teachers walk away from the classroom

Back in early 2022, Sarwar told delegates at the Scottish Labour conference that it wasn't enough that the Tories “deserve to lose.”

“It’s not enough that the SNP deserve to lose,” he added.

“We have to prove to the people of Scotland that we deserve to win.” 

It was a refrain he repeated again and again throughout 2023. 

This reconstituting is about trying to get voters to believe that Scottish Labour deserves to win. 

There’s still some way to go before Sarwar gets the keys to Bute House and while the polls are positive for him just now – and God knows the last decade of Scottish politics has taught us this again and again – anything could happen between now and Thursday 7 May 2026. 

One of the oft-repeated criticisms of Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour is that it’s policy light. Even after his major speech last week, there are still unanswered questions about what the party stands for. 

Though I think that criticism is perhaps a little unfair, one of the policies that has been fleshed out more than others is the Green Prosperity Plan.

The Herald: A major speech by Keir Starmer last week failed to quell the perception that the party isn't clear on what it stands forA major speech by Keir Starmer last week failed to quell the perception that the party isn't clear on what it stands for (Image: Newsquest)
Labour has not been shy about touting the benefits since it was first announced. 

The biggest promise for those of us north of the border is that it will double “the number of jobs in low carbon sectors in Scotland, by creating over 50,000 new direct and indirect jobs in Scotland in a decade in the clean power sector alone”.

When the plan was first announced in September 2021, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Labour would put £28bn of capital investment for each year of this decade, with much of that coming from borrowing.

That was tweaked in June 2023, with Reeves saying the poor economic picture and the soaring cost of borrowing, meant it would be ramped up to £28bn per year at some point in the second half of the next parliament.

Last week, Starmer said even that might not happen. 

Asked by LBC’s Nick Ferrari whether the figure was a pledge or a “gold-plated ambition”, Starmer said: “It’s a confident ambition.”

The party’s self-imposed fiscal rule means that debt has to be falling as a percentage of GDP.

There was speculation in the press over the weekend, that the ambition may be downgraded again following the spring budget, on March 6, if Jeremy Hunt pushes ahead with tax cuts, limiting how much Reeves can borrow. 

Get Scotland's top politics newsletter sent directly to your inbox each evening.

What does that mean for the 50,000 jobs? It was notable in his speech that Sarwar would only say tens of thousands of jobs. 

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, or maybe the pledge has been reconstituted too.