A Labour MSP has said speaking about racist comments he endured during the party’s recent leadership contest was the “most difficult” thing he had done – but stressed it was also the “right thing to do”.
Anas Sarwar, the defeated candidate in last year’s Scottish Labour leadership election, recently claimed an elected councillor had told him he could not support him because he was a “brown, Muslim Paki”.
Following the allegations, Scottish Labour suspended Davie McLachlan, leader of the party’s group on South Lanarkshire Council, pending an investigation.
Mr Sarwar, Labour’s health spokesman at Holyrood, told BBC Radio Scotland he had not spoken out during the leadership contest for fear of being accused of “playing the so-called race card”.
However, he said he now wanted to spark a wider debate about racism and Islamophobia.
Mr Sarwar has just a launched a cross-party group on tackling racism and Islamophobia at the Scottish Parliament.
Appearing on The Kaye Adams Programme, he spoke about how he believed that elected politicians “should be held to a higher standard” than the public on such issues.
Speaking about his own experiences, he said: “In 1997 I was assaulted because of the colour of my skin, in the early 2000s when I was out with my friends on a Saturday night in Glasgow glass bottles were thrown at me because of the colour of our skin.
“That is happening less and that is to be welcomed, we have seen a difference in terms of tolerance and understanding in our communities.
“What my fear is is it now becoming a much more insidious and much more institutionalised form of everyday racism and Islamophobia, and that’s what needs to be challenged.”
While he did not speak about the issue during the leadership contest, Mr Sarwar said that when setting up the cross-party group at Holyrood “I felt it was right to put my own head above the parapet and talk about my own personal experiences, in the hope we can spark a wider debate”.
The former Scottish Labour deputy leader said the “most difficult thing I’ve ever done is to talk about race and faith”, adding there had also been an impact on his family.
During the leadership election, a party member told him she could not support his bid after seeing a picture of his wife Furheen wearing a hijab.
He added: “My children are of an age now where they see the newspaper, they talk about the news in their school, for their dad to be in the news for what is essentially a negative story and a hurtful one, that poses hardship for me.”
The MSP recalled when his eldest son Adam had come home upset after joining a new football club.
Mr Sarwar said: “He didn’t know what it was, when I asked him he refused to say, but when I pressed him he said he didn’t want to go back to that football club because he was upset because there was two kids in the team who didn’t want to pass to him because of the colour of his skin.
“We’ve got an issue with everyday racism which isn’t criminality, most of it can’t reported to the police, but impacts upon playgrounds, on college and university campuses, it impacts upon workplaces, and I think as a society in Scotland we should be brave enough to speak about it.”