Anas Sarwar, the new Scottish Labour leader has launched his party’s election campaign with a speech ruling out supporting a second independence referendum.

The Glasgow MSP said instead Scotland should be focusing on recovery form the covid pandemic for the economy, for health and for education.

Sarwar, who won the leadership contest to take over from Richard Leonard, said that while there are divisions among the country over independence and Brexit still divides opinion, there needs to be unity to recover from the impact of the last year of lockdown.

He said: “An argument about a referendum right now won’t take one more person back to work; it won’t lift a single family out of poverty; it won’t restart our NHS; and it would undermine the effort – a national effort – to recover from the pandemic.

“I am going to be a leader who focuses on what unites us as a country, not what divides us.

Prioritising the national recovery should be what unites us all.

“So I say to all my fellow Scots, whether you were Yes or No, or Leave or Remain, if you believe we should work together on the things we care about right now, then Scottish Labour is with you in this election.”

He announced an election policy for Labour on education after pupils have missed out on months of education in school and many parents have struggled with home learning.

The party will publish its education comeback plan ahead of the election in May.

Sarwar said: “It includes a tutoring programme which must be led nationally and resourced by the Scottish Government.

“We believe there should be a personal comeback plan for every pupil, based on a needs-based assessment, and combined with a mental health assessment.

“For those young people who have missed out on examinations this year, we believe there should be a resit guarantee with a free place at college to take national qualifications should this be the chosen path of any pupil from the affected cohort.”

He also called for an outdoor activity programme for school age children this summer.

Sarwar added: “Rather than focusing on academic catch-up over the summer holidays, there should be a resourced programme including resources for national youth organisations to engage young people with outdoor activities, ring-fenced resources for school trips to outdoor activity centres for all young people.”

Sarwar is standing in Glasgow Southside against SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and is second on the Labour regional list for Glasgow