Anas Sarwar faces a defining weekend in his tenure as leader of Scottish Labour, as the party holds what is likely to be its final conference before the general election.

Named Scottish Politician of the Year for 2023, the 40-year-old appears to be leading a revival of his party who took an important by-election win in Rutherglen & Hamilton West late last year.

After a difficult week for Labour nationally though, with leader Sir Keir Starmer under fire over candidate selection, Gaza and the environment, the atmosphere is set to be charged.

Here's how the Scottish leader got here - and where he goes next.

In the blood

Mr Sarwar has Labour in the blood, as the son of the UK's first ever Muslim MP, Mohammad Sarwar.

The older Mr Sarwar immigrated from Pakistan in 1976 before setting up a successful wholesale business and, in 1997, being elected as the representative for Glasgow Central (then Glasgow Govan).

He was only allowed to stand after a fierce selection contest which he initially lost by one vote, a result he successfully challenged in court as Muslim votes had been discounted due to alleged rigging. Shortly after the election he was suspended by Labour when a police investigation was opened into whether he'd tried to bribe another candidate, with Mr Sarwar cleared two years later and reinstated.

As well as being the first Muslim MP the country has ever had, he was instrumental in the convictions of the murderers of Kriss Donald. Imran Shahid, Zeeshan Shahid, and Mohammed Faisal Mushtaq all fled to Pakistan after the killing of the 15-year-old, a country with which the UK has no extradition treaty, but Mr Sarwar was able to secure a one-off deal to bring them to Scotland to be tried.

Read More: Anas Sarwar insists Keir Starmer can inspire Scots to elect a Labour government

Anas Sarwar began campaigning for the party at the age of "nine or 10", officially joining it a few years later.

Educated privately at Hutchesons' Grammar School, Mr Sarwar attained a dental degree from the University of Glasgow and worked at Bidwell and Associates in Paisley from 2005 to 2009.

It appears politics was always his real calling though, with the young Mr Sarwar standing unsuccessfully on the party list in the 2007 Holyrood election.

The Herald: Anas Sarwar

He went in knowing he had "no chance", he admitted to the Guardian in 2009 - with Labour still holding a near monopoly on Glasgow seats he was never going to be elected on the list. In the event his party won all but one seat, losing to Nicola Sturgeon in Govan.

Later that year, however, he was selected to stand for his father's seat at Westminster and comfortably defeated SNP candidate Osama Saeed, taking more than 50% of the vote and winning an increased majority.

Accusations of nepotism inevitably followed, but Mr Sarwar insisted: "I'm campaigning in my own right, and I think that people in the Labour party recognise me as being my own person, and on the doorsteps I'm standing as no one's son in particular.

"I'm standing as Anas Sarwar, who passionately believes in the Labour party and wants to deliver for the people of Glasgow."

Rise of the SNP

Though he helped co-ordinate the successful Better Together campaign for the 2014 independence referendum, Mr Sarwar lost his seat in the SNP wave which followed at the next general election, Alison Thewliss triumphing in a 35% swing.

Read More: Keir Starmer expected to face protests on Gaza at Scottish Labour conference

By the time Mr Sarwar was selected on the regional list for a second time the electoral map had shifted completely.

At the 2016 Holyrood election the SNP took every seat in Scotland's largest city, allowing Scottish Labour to take four seats on the Glasgow list and making their future leader an MSP for the first time.

Much like getting to the Scottish Parliament though, becoming leader took more than one attempt. Mr Sarwar stood to replace Kezia Dugdale in 2017 but at the height of Corbynmania, he was seen as too far to the right of the party and handily despatched by the socialist Richard Leonard.

Initially appointed as health spokesperson he was binned in a reshuffle the following year in favour of Monica Lennon. When Mr Leonard resigned in 2021 it was they who would contest the leadership, with Mr Sarwar emerging triumphant on 57% of the vote.


Following his election, Mr Sarwar was frank about the challenge he faced: "The pathway that I need to take the Labour party on is, one, survival. From survival to relevance. From relevance to credible opposition from credible opposition to credible alternative."

How far down that pathway has he gone? Scottish Labour took a seismic win in the Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election late last year, ensuring Michael Shanks became their second MP at Westminster.

Similarly recent polls have shown the party closing the gap to the SNP, though Humza Yousaf's party remains resilient despite a difficult couple of years.

It seems certain that Sir Keir Starmer will be the next Prime Minister - with a healthy majority - but his appeal remains more selective north of the border.

In November Mr Sarwar backed an SNP motion at Holyrood calling for a full ceasefire in Gaza, while the UK leader backed only 'humanitarian pauses'.

This Sunday conference is expected to pass a motion backing an immediate ceasefire, a position Mr Starmer does not back, with protests likely over both that and a u-turn on environmental spending.

The Scottish Labour leader will be only too aware of the necessity of bridging that gap if he's to make his party the credible alternative.