ANAS Sarwar has been named The Herald Scottish Politician of the Year Award for reviving the electoral fortunes of Scottish Labour on the local and national stage.
The Glasgow MSP was the first leader of his party to win the coveted title since First Minister Jack McConnell more than 20 years ago.
Mr Sarwar became Scottish Labour leader at the second attempt in February 2021 after a bruising defeat to Richard Leonard four years earlier.
Since taking over, he has brought dynamism and optimism to the role and worked in concert with UK leader Sir Keir Starmer to help bring about a return to power at Westminster.
Mr Sarwar has also led at Holyrood on a series of health scandals, including child deaths at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
His knowledge of the health brief has made him Nicola Sturgeon’s most formidable opponent at FMQs.
He led his party into second place in May’s local elections, over-taking the Conservatives.
Mr Sarwar, the first leader of an opposition party to win since Ruth Davidson in 2017, collected the award at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh at the first in-person ceremony for the event since the Covid pandemic.
He said: “I want to thank the judges and those who nominated me for the honour of this award.
"But as is ever the case, this award really recognises the work of a team of incredible Labour politicians and staff who work everyday to change our county for the better.
"Most importantly, I'd like to thank the people of Scotland
"When I took this job 20 months ago, I began by saying that Labour had not been good enough, and that I would work day and night to give people the party they deserved.
"That work goes on.
"In 20 months, we have doubled our support and established ourselves as Scotland's second party.
"But the party I lead doesn't aspire for second place, we aspire to win.
"Scotland's politics has for too long been routed in anger, divsion and despair.
"But we can build a politics of empathy, unity and hope, where we don't pit Scot against Scot, but change our country, together."
Mr Sarwar won against joint nominees Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, the first Green ministers anywhere in the UK, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was shortlisted for continuing the SNP’s dominance of Scottish politics, but whose accumulating problems counted against her.
Mr Sarwar’s ability to manoeuvre between barbed jokes, shocking case studies and fiery tirades at FMQs earned him the Donald Dewar Debater of the Year Award.
His heartfelt pleas for justice on behalf of families bereaved by NHS mistakes were also a factor in him winning this category, which is supported by Aiir Networks.
He beat off competition from Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, former Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, and his predecessor as Scottish Labour leader, Mr Leonard.
The SNP’s Stewart McDonald, the MP for Glasgow South, was the clear choice of the judges in the Best Scotland at Westminster category.
The party’s defence spokesman was recognised for his work on Ukraine, exposing disinformation and standing up to internal critics as he revises military and foreign policy.
Also shortlisted were Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain for her lead on a run of Tory harassment and bullying scandals, and the SNP’s Joanna Cherry KC, for her constant defence of women’s rights in the gender reform debate despite hostility from her own side.
With a third of MSPs elected just last year, The One to Watch category supported by Scottish Power generated a raft of entries and intense debate between the judges.
The winner was the SNP’s Europe minister Neil Gray, whose rise since moving from Westminster to Holyrood in 2021 has been swift and impressive.
Also nominated were Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy, Green Gillian Mackay and Conservative Craig Hoy.
More straight-forward to assess was the Committee MSP of the Year Award, where the stand-out winner was Labour’s Richard Leonard, for his convenership of the Holyrood Public Audit Committee as it revealed new aspects of the CalMac ferries fiasco.
Also recognised were Labour’s Monica Lennon, who verbally eviscerated the chairman of P&O over his treatment of staff on the Net Zero committee, and Tory Russell Findlay, for his work on Criminal Justice Committee.
Labour’s Paul Sweeney, another former MP who turned to Holyrood last year, was named Community MSP of the Year for his work on the drugs death crisis, including a Bill to establish overdose prevention centres.
Also commended in this category were former SNP minister Fergus Ewing, for harrying his party over the state of the A9 and North East oil jobs, and Douglas Ross for his campaigning over maternity services in Moray.
The Public Campaign or Campaigner of the Year Award drew a hugely impressive crop of entries.
The winner was Back Off Scotland in conjunction with Green MSP Gillian Mackay, whose work on legislating to create protest-free buffer zones around abortion clinics will affect thousands of women.
Also shortlisted were Care Home Relatives Scotland for securing access to loved ones in care, and the Poverty Alliance for its work on Scottish Child Payments, which are now helping hundreds of thousands of families with the cost of living crisis.
Ms Mackay said: “Thank you all for this prestigious award and for the recognition it gives to the vital work being done by Back Off Scotland.
“I am massively grateful to everyone who has supported my Bill, and particularly the many people who have shared their stories and experiences in an effort to ensure that nobody else is harassed or intimidated when accessing healthcare.
“All around the world we are seeing attacks on the right to choose. Abortion rights are human rights, and we must do everything we can to protect and extend those rights.
“I am hugely appreciative to everyone at The Herald for this award and for everything you have done to keep the issue in the spotlight, where it belongs.”
Back Off Scotland co-founders Lucy Grieve and Alice Murray said: “We’re absolutely delighted to have won Campaign of the Year alongside Gillian Mackay MSP for our work to bring national, harassment-free ‘buffer zones’ to Scotland.
“When we started this campaign as university undergraduates in 2020, we could never have foreseen the levels of support from the community as well as from within across the political spectrum.
“We still have a way to go to achieve our aim but we’re more committed than ever to stopping harassment outside abortion facilities once and for all.
“We would also like to pay tribute to the other organisations shortlisted in this category - Poverty Alliance and Care Home Relatives Scotland - it means the world to us to be recognised alongside these fantastic campaigns and we wish them the best.”
The judging panel, chaired by Catherine Salmond, Editor of the Herald, went through a day of deliberations, with many of the awards made on a finely balanced points system.
Ms Salmond said: “Congratulations to all our winners and finalists and thank you, to them, for the commitment they show to public life.
"This has been an extraordinary year in politics, with a war in Europe, three prime ministers, four chancellors, a cost of living crisis, the return of strikes, and of course more twists and turns in the independence debate.
“The Herald strives to be at the forefront of bringing this news to you, our readers, along with incisive analysis and comment to help make sense of so much of it. Thank you for your continued support.”
Now in their 24th year, the awards were sponsored by Aiir Networks, Openreach Scotland and Scottish Power.
The Politics in Business Award was won by SNP trade minister Ivan McKee for driving change at Scottish Development International and helping more Scottish firms enter new overseas markets.
Also nominated were Scottish Secretary Alister Jack for his work on green freeports, SNP finance secretary Kate Forbes and her Tory opposite number Murdo Fraser.
Tory newcomer Dr Sandesh Gulhane won the E-Politician of the Year award.
While most poltiicians make the most of Twitter - like fellow nominees Sir Edward Mountain and Mr Leonard - the GP turned MSP has created his own podcast series.
The Local Politician of the Year Award supported by Openreach completed an impressive tally for Labour, with a win for Stephen McCabe, the leader of Inverclyde.
His authority set up its own £350 cost of living grants for the neediest 10,000 local families.
Also shortlisted were Edinburgh leader Cammy Day and Dundee leader John Alexander.
Lady Elish Angiolini received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Scotland’s first female Lord Advocate, she is currently leading the independent inquiry into the murder of Sarah Everard by off-duty policeman Wayne Couzens.
Keith Anderson, Chief Executive of ScottishPower, said: “The event always demonstrates real strength and depth across Scottish political life. I would like to congratulate all of the winners and nominees. I was delighted to see such a high calibre across all of the categories, from the main award to One to Watch, which we were delighted to sponsor.”
Hamish Fraser, Managing Director of Aiir Networks, said: “On behalf of the Aiir Networks board, it has been our pleasure to support The Herald, as well as an event with such political significance in Scotland.
“We would like to applaud the events team for delivering what’s been a highly successful and enjoyable awards evening. It’s certainly great to be back!
Ian Kinnaird, Scottish Assets & Generation Egineering Direcotor, Drax said "Drax was delighted to sponsor the Herald Scottish Politician of the Year Awards, we want to congratulate all those who were nominated for the awards and those who won. Drax’s Scottish pumped hydro and hydro operations including Cruachan play a critical role in supporting Scotland the wider UK’s energy needs at this critical time.”
“To all of the winners and nominees, thank you as always for your considerable contribution to Scottish politics. To everyone who took home an award tonight, congratulations!”
Robert Thorburn, partnership director at Openreach Scotland, said: “What a night! It was brilliant to be back in the room where it happens for The Herald’s Scottish Politician of the Year Awards – the most prestigious political awards in the calendar.
“Day in and day out, our elected representatives are hard at work across Scotland to support people, families and businesses everywhere – a commitment we share here at Openreach. It was fantastic to recognise all the wonderful and often unsung work which happens every day in chambers, committees, councils and communities all over Scotland.”
THE FULL LIST OF WINNERS
Best Scot at Westminster
Stewart McDonald, SNP MP for Glasgow South
Donald Dewar Debater of the Year
Supported by Aiir Networks
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar
One to Watch
Supported by Scottish Power
SNP culture and Europe minister Neil Gray
Committee MSP of the Year
Richard Leonard, convener of Public Audit
Community MSP of the Year
Paul Sweeney, Glasgow Labour MSP
Politics in Business Award
SNP trade minister Ivan McKee
E-Politician of the Year
Dr Sandesh Gulhane, Glasgow Tory MSP
Public Campaign of the Year
Back Off Scotland / Green MSP Gilian Mackay
Scottish Local Politician of the Year
Supported by Openreach
Stephen McCabe, Labour leader of Inverclyde Council
Lifetime Achievement Award
Lady Elish Angiolini
Catherine Salmond, Editor, The Herald (Chairperson)
Tom Gordon, Political Editor, The Herald
Katrine Bussey, Scottish Political Editor, Press Association
Peter MacMahon, Political Editor, ITV Border
Dr Liz Cameron OBE, Chief Executive, Scottish Chambers of Commerce
Kirsten Campbell, Political Correspondent, BBC Scotland