ANAS Sarwar refused to denounce the Orange Order when asked about racism in Scotland following a row about a candidate in the upcoming local elections.

The Scottish Labour leader has found himself in hot water after it emerged one of the party’s candidates to stand for North Lanarkshire Council in May is a former Grand Master of the Orange Order in Scotland.

Asked directly if the organisation – which insists it is not anti-Catholic – “promotes the sort of inclusivity and tolerance that you’re promoting”, Sarwar said: “I don’t choose the candidates, local parties do.

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“But what I expect of every single candidate, regardless of their background, is for them to abide by Labour Party values, Labour Party principles and that includes a zero-tolerance on all forms of prejudice or hate."

Speaking at Scottish Labour's conference in Glasgow on Sunday, he added: “He has the support of his local party. I expect him to abide by those values and I would hope that not only does he abide by those values, but he expresses horror and outrage at any form of prejudice or hate, and that’s what I would expect from all of our candidates.” 

But the party has faced criticism it has “opened its doors to the ex-leader of a deeply divisive organisation”.

And the row has sparked calls for council candidates to take a firm stance against bigotry in May's elections. 

A spokesperson for Show Racism The Red Card said: "We stand against anti-Catholic and anti-Irish bigotry in all its forms, and we call on all prospective council candidates to take action to educate their communities on the damage that hate can cause." 

Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson tweeted: “Is Anas Sarwar seriously planning to stand the former Orange Order ‘Imperial President’ as a Scottish Labour candidate in the forthcoming local government elections? #scottishlabour #judgement #leadership”.

Call It Out, a group dedicated to challenging anti-Catholic discrimination in Scotland, said Labour “can no longer speak credibly on bigotry, hatred and inequality” as a result of the selection.

Henry Dunbar was the most senior Orangeman in Scotland between 2010 and 2016.

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He was filmed in 2014 telling crowds then First Minister Alex Salmond would “not con the loyal Protestant people of Scotland”.

The clip, shot just days before the independence referendum, showed Dunbar saying: “No to independence and no surrender to separatism."