SCOTTISH Labour has raised £1 million in donations in the year since Anas Sarwar became leader, amid signs the party is gaining lost ground after years in the political doldrums, The Herald can reveal.

The sum is a massive increase, with just £250 donated when Richard Leonard was at the helm in 2019, while under Kezia Dugdale in 2016, the figure was £26,839.

Mr Sarwar made public the £1 million sum in an interview with The Herald, following the first anniversary of his election as Scottish Labour chief, and as he prepares to address his party faithful as they meet for the start of their conference in Glasgow tomorrow.

The beginning of the gathering will see a new red and purple thistle emblem unveiled to replace the party’s red rose icon, in a bid to help the party to be seen as more distinctly Scottish.

But political opponents say the move is cosmetic and that voters will regard it as such.

During the interview, Mr Sarwar was asked if he had made progress on his vow to “make Labour a credible alternative to the SNP”.

Mr Sarwar said he believed progress had been made, adding that the party was regarded as more “credible and likeable” in the past year. He also cited advances in digital communications, research and fundraising.

The new leader was forced to implement an emergency financial plan when he replaced Mr Leonard in February last year, just months before the Holyrood election.

“When I became leader a year ago, we were haemorrhaging votes. We had to stop armageddon at the Scottish Parliament election. I think we successfully did that and we had to demonstrate a new energy and a new identity.

“We have largely done that and part of that work still continues. And then we had to build an organisation that was fit for purpose and that has been bloody hard work,” he said.

Mr Sarwar was pressed on what progress had been made on fundraising – with The Herald pointing out that just £250 was raised in 2019 and £26,839 in 2016 – and was asked if donors were returning.

“If you look at crude fundraising, those two figures are correct, I believe. In the last year we have raised £1 million and that in itself demonstrates a level of competence and a level of credibility,” he said adding that the donations were a mix of significant and smaller sums.

He declined to name any individual donors, but said they were from a range of backgrounds and geographical locations across Scotland and that they would be made public through the Electoral Commission.

Mr Sarwar went on to concede that the next challenge was turning “likeability and credibility into electability”.

He was optimistic the Tories’ partygate crisis may bring over some voters to Labour, after Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross admitted the saga could lose his party support in the local elections in May. But he was also adamant he can appeal to some SNP voters to return to Labour.

“The simple thing is this. Any vote for the Conservatives is a vote for Boris Johnson and endorsing the views of Boris Johnson and the qualities of Boris Johnson,” he said.

“My simple message [to voters] is – the Scottish Tories aren’t supporting Boris Johnson, why should you? It is important when we are talking about voters to say there are some who identity themselves in strictly party political terms. I think those people are pretty rooted in their political party.

“But those voters who have perhaps switched from Labour to the Tories primarily on the Union question, they have a home in the Labour party in terms of us being a pro-UK party. We want to reform and renew the UK but we support being part of the UK.”

He was asked how he would appeal to former Labour voters who had switched in high numbers to the SNP since the independence referendum in 2014.

Mr Sarwar responded: “There are lots of people both within my own party and from outside who think some kind of wheeze, or shifting on the constitutional question, is somehow the magic bullet which will lead all these people back.

“The reality is, we have to win people back by being authentic, by being credible, by demonstrating energy, by demonstrating big thinking and new ideas doing the hard work.

“And I am willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears to bring those people back in.

“I don’t just want our message to be about ‘the SNP deserve to lose or the Tories deserve to lose’, I want people to think ‘Labour deserve to win’. We have to show we deserve people’s support.”

He was pressed again on how Labour would persuade Yes voters to stop backing the SNP and back Labour instead, given the party’s opposition to independence and indyref2.

His response suggested part of Labour’s strategy would be to continue to attack the Scottish Government’s record in a bid to persuade some disillusioned independence supporters to back his party once more.

Ahead of the election First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised to hold a second independence referendum by the end of 2023, Covid permitting.

However, there are doubts whether the vote will take place with the Prime Minister refusing to agree to transfer the necessary powers to Holyrood for it to take place.

Ms Sturgeon has promised to hold the referendum using Scottish Parliament legislation but such a move could be challenged in the Supreme Court by the UK Government.

Calling SNP plans for independence and indyref2 next year, a “false hope”, Mr Sarwar appealed to SNP voters, who he hopes are becoming disillusioned.

He said: “How long are you willing to wait for the SNP to continue us down this route, with this false hope that they are going to change our country?

“They have been in power now for 15 years and in that time there’s been record long NHS waiting lists, our education system used to be the best in the world – I want it to get back to being the best in the world again – and how do we confront the climate emergency?

“There is a way to achieve these aspirations and still be part of the UK.  But we need to make that case.”