LABOUR faces renewed turmoil over institutional racism concerns after its only BME MSP was dramatically sacked from the frontbench by leader Richard Leonard.

Anas Sarwar was forced to step down as Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health yesterday afternoon as Leonard carried out a reshuffle. The former dentist said he heard about being removed from his post while taking part in a parliamentary debate. His sacking means there are no members of ethnic minority communities in the party’s top team north of the Border.

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The development prompted the Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to raise fresh questions about alleged racism, drawing attention to earlier claims over whether Asian party members had been denied votes in last year’s leadership contest.

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“Scottish Labour denied Asian members voting rights in an internal selection battle, allegedly discounted Asian members postal ballots and have now chucked their only Asian front bencher to the back benches,” tweeted Yousaf. “Structural racism within Scottish Labour?”

Sarwar, a Glasgow MSP and a former dentist, was Leonard’s rival in last year’s bitter leadership election and has a high profile role in speaking out about racism. In an interview earlier this year he said that during the contest a Labour councillor told him “Scotland wouldn’t vote for a brown Muslim Paki”, prompting an internal party investigation.

Sarwar recently launched a campaign for anti-racism education to be embedded in the school curriculum. He declined to comment on Yousaf’s remarks.

“I’m deeply disappointed to no longer be Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health. It’s a shame that I came to know about this decision through Twitter, while I was leading for Labour in a health debate in the Holyrood chamber,” he said in a statement.

“I am incredibly proud of the work I did on behalf of NHS patients and staff, particularly the creation of a workforce commission, the campaign to end the pay cap, and the fight to protect local services from SNP cuts. For the sake of all the people who need a Labour Government, I wish Richard Leonard and his Shadow Cabinet all the very best for the future. I will continue to serve my constituents tirelessly from the backbenches, campaigning for issues close to my heart including the battle against racism, prejudice and hatred.”

Shadow Economy Secretary Jackie Baillie was a second victim of the reshuffle. Monica Lennon will take on the health post for the party while Leonard will combine his leadership with the economy brief.

Baillie said: “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve and will continue to be a strong advocate for my constituents – and Labour values. I wish Richard Leonard well for the future.”

Unveiling his new team Leonard said Scottish Labour had to focus on “unity and the public, not ourselves and internal battles”. “I thank the outgoing shadow cabinet for their contribution,” he said. He added he is creating a working group to attract “a wider and more representative group of candidates” for the next Scottish Parliament elections. Earlier the party confirmed its head of communications Charlie Mann had resigned.