Sarwar says Labour candidate has shown contrition on smuggler gang ‘stupid joke’

Anas Sarwar has said the Labour candidate who once suggested smuggler gangs could be “shipped to Scotland” has shown contrition for his “stupid joke”.

The Scottish Labour leader also described Diane Abbott as a “trailblazer” for Labour, while saying that he did not believe any final decision had been made in her case.

Josh Simons was chosen as the Labour candidate for Makerfield in north-west England on Wednesday.

He later apologised for the remarks.

His selection as a Labour candidate in the General Election led to attacks from the SNP, which said the comments were “a disgrace”.

Mr Sarwar has previously described the comments as “stupid” and “flippant”.

On Thursday, the Scottish Labour leader met activists in Craigmillar, Edinburgh, along with candidate Chris Murray.

Speaking to journalists, Mr Sarwar said: “I don’t know Josh Simons, I obviously know of Josh Simons.

“When he was a political commentator he made a stupid joke which, you’re right, I called out at the time.

“He apologised, he’s shown contrition.”

Scottish National Party Conference 2017
Alison Thewliss said Josh Simons’s comments were a ‘disgrace’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Sarwar added: “We should put this into context, he’s not trying to misuse public money like we saw with Michael Matheson, who John Swinney spent the last week trying to defend.”

The Scottish Labour leader said Ms Abbott’s candidacy is something for the UK party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) to decide.

Mr Sarwar said: “What I know about Diane Abbott is that she is a trailblazer, someone of a proud history for the Labour Party, her country and her community. And someone who made history when she became Britain’s first black female MP.”

Earlier, the SNP candidate for Glasgow North Alison Thewliss branded Mr Simons’s comments “a disgrace”.

She said: “Sarwar previously claimed Josh Simons’s views don’t represent the Labour Party, despite Mr Simons being a key ally of Keir Starmer, but now it’s indisputable that they do.”

The row over Mr Simons’s selection erupted as Labour veteran Ms Abbott accused Sir Keir of an “appalling” cull of left-wingers as she faced continued uncertainty about her own political future.

Ms Abbott said she wants to fight to retain her seat “as long as it is possible”, but she criticised decisions made by Labour to exclude candidates from the party’s left.

David Linden said Labour’s treatment of Diane Abbott has been ‘shameful’ (Ian West/PA)

“Scotland needs a strong team of SNP MPs to ensure Scotland’s voice is heard – and the SNP will have an essential role to play in holding Starmer’s government to account to protect Scotland as the Labour Party drifts even further to the right.

“The way Diane Abbott and other progressive candidates have been treated is shameful – but what is more worrying for Scotland is that Starmer wants to remove all opposition so he can impose Tory policies including Brexit, austerity cuts, creeping NHS privatisation and denying Scotland any say over our future.”

A Scottish Labour spokesperson said “This desperate SNP attack is proof the party is well and truly out of positive ideas on how to deliver the change Scotland needs.

“Instead of worrying about a months-old interview by a candidate in Makerfield, the SNP should focus on fixing the chaos it has made in Scotland – from sky-high NHS waiting lists to a flatlining economy.”

The spokesperson insisted Labour “has selected a fantastic group of candidates in place for the General Election”, adding the SNP “is fielding candidates that will continue their record of decline and put the party interest before Scotland’s interest”.

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