ANAS Sarwar has urged voters to remove the SNP's "puppets” from councils to allow the reversal of budget cuts and rebuilding of communities.

The Scottish Labour leader is hoping to improve on his party’s performance at the 2017 local election, when the Tories under Ruth Davidson, replaced Labour as the second biggest party in terms of both councillors and first preference vote share.

He has insisted that he wants no formal coalitions with other parties at a local level after today’s poll - but has also left the door open to informal arrangements being agreed.

The Glasgow MSP said that on the doorstep “the number one thing by a country mile is the cost-of-living crisis”, with “lots of anger” over partygate and both the SNP and Conservatives “not getting the basics right”.

In the last in the Herald’s election interviews, a confident Mr Sarwar said voters would have the final say, but the “mood music has been good”.

He said: “We’ve run a very positive, energetic campaign, we’ve been leading on the right message and we have the right priorities, but we have to translate that into votes at the ballot box.”

A Savanta Comres poll for the Scotsman yesterday suggested Scottish Labour poised to retake second place from Douglas Ross’s Tories.

But Mr Sarwar’s chief target are the “SNP puppets” in town halls across Scotland who he claims won’t stand up for communities, and fail to lobby the Scottish Government for more funding to spare the ministers embarrassment.

Labour is calling on the Government to fund councils properly to ensure neighbourhoods and high streets can be rebuilt after the shock of the pandemic.

Cosla, the umbrella organisation for Scottish councils, has pointed to a long-term real-terms cut to core budgets.

Labour calculates the SNP has cut £6billion from councils since 2013.

Mr Sarwar said: “If we think about pre-pandemic, you had communities across the country whose budgets were totally decimated – year-on-year cuts from the SNP - in many of those years taking a cut from the Tories, multiplying it and handing it down to local government.”

He said the cuts had led to “fewer jobs, less money on cleansing, cut backs and less resources for classrooms”, and the “pandemic has super-charged that”.

He said: “Reinvigorating our communities is going to be a massive part of what we do. That’s part of our national recovery and that national recovery has got to translate into a local recovery. That means promoting tourism – we’ve got to demonstrate that Scotland’s open again.

“We need to get people back into Scotland again, spending money in Scotland, experiencing Scotland and that’s particularly important for city regions.”

He went on: “People lost their confidence during the pandemic.

“The tragedy is all those businesses that managed to fight through the pandemic are now faced with a cost-of-running-a-business crisis, people have less money to spend in those businesses and on those high streets..

“We’re in the sad situation where we are electing SNP councillors and SNP council leaders who think their job is to go in there and defend the SNP rather than fight for their local community.”

He said instead of being puppets, Labour councillors would be “local champions who are going to fight for you, your family and your local community.”

The Labour leader also warned that “Holyrood hoards power and doesn’t push power out” to councils, pointing to public transport and economic development as areas that should see power devolved to local councils.

He stressed the need to “build public services that are fit for their local community” and “respect local democracies”.

Glasgow, where Labour hopes to dislodge the SNP from power, is a key battleground. Mr Sarwar said “the neglect is visible” in his home city.

“It’s there for all to see. Unless we have targeted support and a real energy put behind that, we are going to see lots of communities struggle.

“Glasgow has always been viewed as one of the most high-profile contests.

“We have the added challenge in Glasgow where we have to beat not just the SNP, but we have to beat the SNP and the Greens. They are running as separate parties but they may as well be one political party.

“The SNP have neglected the city in the last five years and we want to get the basics right in the city of Glasgow but also rebuild Glasgow.”

Nicola Sturgeon was the only Holyrood party leader not to give the Herald a full election interview.