THE SNP have urged Anas Sawar to deselect a former leader of the Orange Order currently due to stand for his party in May’s local elections.

The Nationalists said the Scottish Labour leader should immediately drop Henry Dunbar from standing, overruling the local party members who chose him as their candidate.

However it is understood Mr Dunbar's religion and association with the Order are protected by equalities law.

Mr Dunbar, 66, a prominent Unionist figure in the 2014 referendum, is one of two Labour candidates selected to stand in the Airdrie North ward of North Lanarkshire Council.

As the Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, Mr Dunbar was the country’s most senior orange man from 2010 to 2016. 

He was also the most senior member of the Order in the world from 2015 to 2018, when he served as its Imperial President.

The Order describes itself as Scotland’s biggest and oldest Protestant fraternity, with members united by faith. However it is seen by some as hostile to Catholics.

The Herald revealed last week that Mr Dunbar has been selected as a candidate.

He said he was doing so to serve the local community and people’s faith and beliefs would be irrelevant to him. 

“I’m not standing for the Orange Order, I’m standing for Scottish Labour,” he said

However SNP Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson suggested it reflected poorly on Mr Sarwar’s judgment, while the Call It Out campaign against anti-Catholic bigotry in Scotland said it was a “slap in the face” for every Catholic who had ever voted Labour.

On BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show yesterday, Mr Sarwar said he expected every Labour candidate to have a “zero tolerance on all forms of prejudice or hate”.

He said: “I have a zero tolerance approach to any form of prejudice or hate. And if there's any evidence of any candidate, or any member of our political party who has expressed hatred against anybody in our communities, I will root that out. I won't stand for it.”

It is understood Labour lawyers have considered the issues raised by Mr Dunbar's selection, and concluded that his association with the Order is not a ground for removal, as the organisation is not proscribed by either the party of the government.

Indeed, Mr Dunbar's religion and his association with the Order - as a proxy for his religion - are protected characteristics under equality law, meaning it would considered discrimination to use them as grounds for his removal as a candidate. 

East Kilbride SNP MSP Collette Stevenson said: “In Anas Sarwar’s desperation to find candidates for the local elections, he has thrown out all principle and opened his arms to an ex-leader of a deeply divisive organisation.

“It simply beggars belief that Scottish Labour think this is appropriate, but it shows how far they have sunk. 

“Anas Sarwar must immediately drop Henry Dunbar as a candidate for the council elections – the politics of division have no place in Scotland.

“Words and actions matter, and Anas Sarwar should show some leadership by showing zero tolerance to hatred and bigotry and ditch this candidate.

“As long as Scottish Labour continue to side with the Tories and support Westminster control over Scotland then they will continue to slide into irrelevance in Scotland – the selection of a former Orange Order leader demonstrates how desperate they are.”

A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: “Local candidates are selected by local parties.

“Every single person who stands as a Labour candidate must be committed to our values, that means opposing all forms of prejudice and hatred - including anti-Catholic hatred.

“Every Scottish Labour candidate is expected to abide by these values. If there is any evidence to the contrary of this, that would be a breach of these rules and they will no longer be a Scottish Labour candidate.”