The party leader denied he was playing “a game of semantics” during a trip to Hamilton, saying he made it “absolutely clear” there will be no formal coalitions with the SNP and Tories.
However, the First Minister has said the denial makes the Labor leader “seem shifty” and “gives the impression he thinks voters are daft”.
Previously, both Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar said Labor would not form any coalitions with any party on a local and national level.
Areas such as Fife, South Lanarkshire and Stirling have seen minority Labor administrations formed due to support from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and independents.
In Fife, the SNP has accused Labor of “trampling on democracy” after the party took control despite winning just 20 seats, compared to the SNP’s 34.
The SNP criticized Labor for doing “backhand deals” with the Tories, with SNP MSP Clare Haughey tweeting: “Vote Labour, get Tories.”
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During a visit to South Lanarkshire Council, the Labor Leader said the SNP-turned-Labour administration in South Lanarkshire is a “great step forward” for his party.
The Labor leader said the “bleeting” from the SNP over Labour’s minority administrations showed “their sheer arrogance”.
Mr Sarwar said the SNP “need to get over the fact they don’t rule all parts of Scotland”.
In South Lanarkshire, Labor was able to take control of the council with thanks to the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives – despite SNP getting the most votes in the area.
Speaking in Hamilton on Friday, Mr Sarwar defended his stance on no coalitions, saying it was important to find agreement between individual political parties on certain issues that “work for the benefit of local communities”.
Asked by The Scotsman if he misled voters on coalitions through a game of semantics, Mr Sarwar said: “It’s not a game of semantics at all. I was clear before the elections: no coalitions with the SNP and the Tories.
“I made it very clear we would seek to elect as many Labor councilors as possible, I made it very clear we would seek to form Labor minority administrations and that we would seek on individual issues to work with individual councilors and individual political parties on issues of agreement over the course of the next five years.
“There’s no misleading at all. If the SNP don’t understand the electoral system that’s a problem for the SNP, if people want to try and misconstrue what was said before the election that’s up to them.”
He said: “It’s perfectly reasonable and rational like they [the SNP] have sought to do in local authorities to form minority administrations and for Labor to do the same. ”
Mr Sarwar said the party has “sought to maximize” the amount of councillors, saying the party would seek to form minority Labor administrations.
Responding to Mr Sarwar’s denial of coalitions, Nicola Sturgeon said: “Anas would be better just owning it.
“Denying what people can see with their own eyes – ie Lab administrations that are only possible with Tory support – makes him seem shifty and gives impression he thinks voters are daft…which just compounds the strategic political error.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.