ANAS Sarwar has been elected as the new leader of Scottish Labour, making history as the first person from an ethnic minority to lead a major UK political party.

The Glasgow MSP defeated the party’s health spokesperson Monica Lennon, winning 57.6% of the votes cast compared to 42.4%,

But with just 10 weeks to go until May’s Scottish Parliament election, he faces an uphill battle to save Scottish Labour from another humiliating election disaster.

The most recent poll conducted by Ipsos Mori for STV News found the party is languishing in third place for the Holyrood vote and would win 17 seats, down from the current 23.

One expert yesterday predicted Sarwar is unlikely to be able to tackle the “long-term structural decline” of Scottish Labour.

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In his acceptance speech, Sarwar said he realised Labour has “a lot of work to do” to win back the trust of people in Scotland – and offered an apology.

He said: “If we’re brutally honest, you haven’t had the Scottish Labour Party you deserve.

“With rising injustice, inequality and division, I’m sorry we haven’t been good enough. I will work day and night to change that, so we can build the country we all need.”

Sarwar said his election, as the first person from an ethnic minority to lead a UK party, was a testament to Scotland.

“That doesn’t say something about me,” he added. “That says something great about Scotland and its people. But the fight for equality is far from over.

“I’ll work with all our diverse communities in Scotland to rebuild the country we love.”

Sarwar has repeatedly voiced his opposition to another ­independence referendum while his opponent ­Lennon had said it was important the party did not “deny democracy” if a pro-independence majority is elected to Holyrood in May.

The newly elected leader ­concluded his speech saying: “I will be a ­leader who focuses on what unites our ­country – not what divides it. ­Together we will build a better future for Scotland.”

However Lothians Labour MSP Neil Findlay said yesterday that the prospect of another independence ­referendum remained the ­“elephant in the room” for his party, arguing it should put forward a “clear, radical ­alternative” based on maximum devolution.

He said: “We cannot ­rebuild the Labour Party ­taking a hard Unionist stance, I don’t think that is credible because that immediately writes off the 50% or so of the electorate who want a ­referendum.”

Dr Jac Larner, lecturer in politics at Cardiff University, and a member of the Scottish Election Study team, said the issue of a second independence referendum was a “big hurdle” the new leader would have to ­overcome.

He said: “The biggest problem for Labour in the last few years is that Labour supporters, people who vote Labour and voters generally, don’t ­actually know what Scottish Labour’s position on independence actually is. They are very unsure about it.

“They really need consistency ­between UK Labour and Scottish ­Labour on what the actual position will be.

“We know from looking at Scottish Election Study data that the median Scottish Labour supporter is actually quite indy-curious – they are not fully in support of independence, they do tend to favour more powers for the Scottish Parliament as they currently stand.

“So when you have Keir Starmer, who is starting to play around with a bit more of a firmer Unionist position, that is a contrast to where ­Labour supporters are in Scotland.”

Sarwar is the fifth leader of Scottish Labour since the independence referendum of 2014, following the surprise resignation of Richard Leonard six weeks ago.

Larner said another issue he would face is building up recognition as leader in the run-up to the ­Holyrood election – as people use this as a “shortcut” to what they think about a party.

“If you don’t have a strong leader image for your party, that will roll down and affect what people think of your party more generally,” he said.

“Obviously there is not long to go until the Holyrood elections and building up that recognition is going to be very difficult.”

Dr Sean Kippin, a lecturer in ­politics at the University of Stirling, said Sarwar’s election marked the end for now of the Labour Party’s “experiment with left-wing leadership”.

He said more “moderate and triangulating” leaders were now in place in both Holyrood and Westminster.

But he added: “Unfortunately for Sarwar, the task at hand is likely to defeat him as it did his predecessors.

“As the leadership election showed, Labour is split on the central issue of whether and under what conditions to support another independence ­referendum. Divided parties tend to adopt ­contorted positions on big ­issues, which are difficult to sell to ­electorates who understandably seek ­clarity.”

He added: “Ultimately Scottish ­Labour is in the midst of long term structural decline, which any one leader will probably be unable to stop.

“While the election of a British Asian to the leadership of a major political party is something to be celebrated, it looks unlikely he will ever become First Minister, let alone at May’s Scottish Parliament election.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has long been a political rival of both Sarwar and his father before him, also offered her congratulations, saying: “I also like and rate him.”