Anas Sarwar has sought to play down any difference between his position and that of Sir Keir Starmer on a ceasefire in Gaza, saying people should not be “stuck on semantics” as they both want an immediate end to the violence.

The Scottish Labour conference, which begins in Glasgow on Friday, is expected to back calls for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

On BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme, Mr Sarwar was asked about his support for an immediate ceasefire, while UK Labour leader Sir Keir has instead supported humanitarian pauses as the region works towards a cessation of hostilities.

Mr Sarwar said: “I don’t actually think there’s as much distance in this as people now believe.

“Keir Starmer in recent days has said he wants the fighting to stop right now and for that to be a sustainable ceasefire.”

He said they both want violence to stop “right now” – along with the delivery of humanitarian aid, the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, and a pathway to a two-state solution.

Mr Sarwar also said “open conversations” are happening with Labour’s two Scottish MPs, Ian Murray and Michael Shanks, as the SNP pushes for a vote on a ceasefire in Westminster next week.

He said: “We shouldn’t be stuck on the semantics because this is a really important issue of life and death for people right now in Gaza and in Israel.

“The idea that this is about the semantics within one political party that’s in opposition…”

Pressed on why Sir Keir had not used the phrase “immediate ceasefire”, Mr Sarwar said: “Keir Starmer has said ‘the immediate end to fighting’, which means a sustainable ceasefire.

“I am perfectly relaxed and happy to say we need an immediate ceasefire and I have been saying so for weeks and weeks on end.”

Alistair Darling memorial service
Anas Sarwar said both he and Sir Keir Starmer want an immediate end to violence in Gaza (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Meanwhile, Mr Sarwar is expected to tell delegates on the first day of the conference that Labour will fund 160,000 new NHS appointments each year through the money raised from scrapping the non-dom tax status.

Scottish Labour says the tax change will result in £134 million of additional health spending in Scotland.

Mr Sarwar will vow to spend “every penny” of this in Scotland’s NHS, with a focus on tackling waiting lists, with the money projected to generate the equivalent of 160,000 appointments for diagnostics and procedures each year.

Mr Sarwar is expected to say: “Every Scottish seat matters, every Scottish vote matters.

“Because by voting Scottish Labour, Scotland can be at the heart of the next UK Labour government.

“Scotland’s got a choice, and the SNP wants Scotland to settle for sending a message.

“Well I want Scotland to send a government.”