A question of politics
A career in politics might not seem like the logical next step for a newly qualified NHS dentist. But after spending time with new Glasgow Central MP Anas Sarwar, the motivation for going into both professions is obvious.
Glasgow-born Sarwar is only 27, and one of the youngest MPs to be elected to the Westminster Parliament in May.
But, despite his relative youth, he is a seasoned political campaigner, having spent his mid-to-late teens on the hustings alongside his father Mohammad Sarwar, the first Muslim MP in Britain.
Despite some rough times for his father during his own political career, Anas wasn’t put off from becoming part of the political process. And many hours spent knocking on doors and communicating with people from all cultures and backgrounds have given Sarwar a strong desire to make a difference in peoples’ lives.
Educated at Hutcheson’s Grammar near his Pollokshields home, he joined the local Labour party at the age of 16, with a keen sense of social justice at the forefront of his reasons for doing so.
After leaving school, he enrolled in dentistry at Glasgow University in 2000, citing a family friend as one of the guiding influences in that decision.
Anas said: “I had some good role models as a young man and one of those was a friend of the family – who happened to be a dentist. I’ve always been drawn towards public service, and I saw dentistry as a part of that. I liked the idea of working with people. I’ve always thought of myself as a people person and enjoy the interaction that comes with being a dentist.
“It’s nice to be able to put someone at ease who is a bit nervous about treatment – it was one of the things that I really enjoyed about being in general practice, seeing a patient from consultation to treatment and being able to see, not only a change from a dental perspective, but also their personal confidence to undergo treatment in the future.”
His formal training took place at Glasgow Dental School on Sauchiehall Street in the centre of Glasgow. Following graduation in 2005, Anas’s first and only practice was Bidwell and Associates in Paisley – where he worked until 2009.
Despite positive experiences of the education process, as a politician, Anas is acutely aware of the challenges facing establishments as budgets come under increasing pressure.
He said: “My training was good. But, I think the people involved there now would point to big changes in the money available to them and drops in staffing levels. I think that’s a great shame and the challenge, in the current economic climate, is how to continue to invest in dentistry, especially when you consider there is a shortage of NHS dentists across the UK. One of the ways to overcome that is to invest in dental hospitals and dental practices.”
Despite no longer working in the industry, he retains a keen interest in issues affecting the profession – hardly surprising when you consider his wife Furheen is still a practising NHS dentist.
Anas however, doesn’t see the jobs of dentist and politician being fundamentally different: “I’ve always been passionate about the political process. I firmly believe in the principals of social justice and equality, regardless of age, race or social background. And the only way to affect change is to be a part of the political process.
“Inside dentistry, many of the things that I am passionate about are evident. For example, access to adequate health care, of which dentistry is a huge part, is something that should be available to all – no matter what your income or background is. Access to work, education, healthcare – and to dentistry – these are the things I believe everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy.”
Anas Sarwar is one of two dentists at Westminster, the other being Sir Paul Beresford, who has been elected as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for dentistry.
So, as a dentist himself, the question inevitably arises of the possibility of a secretarial or ministerial brief at some time in this area. Would the MP for Glasgow Central like to wield some influence over the future of dentistry in the UK if he got the chance?
“I’ll always take a natural interest in this subject, but I didn’t go into politics with a single issue in mind. People ask me why I went into it at all when there is a shortage of dentists, but the answer is always the same, public service is where I think my future lies.
“Obviously as my wife is still a dentist, I am aware of the challenges facing the profession. Registration is one of course, and the other is access – particularly in rural areas.
“To address both, we have to invest in training and make sure that we have quality institutions, with more dentists coming through the system. We need to encourage graduates, and existing dentists to work in the NHS – and provide the incentives to do that. And we have to put incentives in place in rural areas where access to dentistry is a problem.”
To campaign as part of his father’s election team is one thing, but to be front of house is a completely different experience. It brings with it all the exposure – wanted and unwanted – public figures in the UK now take as par for the course.
It’s a big challenge to meet the expectations the young MP has created. As one of the 232 new MPs at the last General Election, he knows he’s taken on a very big responsibility – but it’s one that he is relishing.
He said: “I’ve only been at Westminster for a few weeks and it is a steep learning curve. There is a lot to understand and you have to hit the ground running, so you have to pick things up as you go. At the moment I’m still getting my constituency office together and the people who will work with me, so it’s very hectic and very exciting at the same time.”
While he can, of course, always turn to his father for advice, Anas Sarwar is very much his own man: “My father is always there for me, but to be honest he never steered me in the direction of politics. Neither of my parents did. They were just supportive of me whatever I did, and happy for me if I was successful at it.
“At the end of the day, I’m a Glasgow boy, born and bred and it’s a place I love. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. To get the chance to represent some of the people in this great city is an enormous privilege and something I am extremely proud of. I’m working my socks off to repay the trust people have put in me.”
Politics is, of course, notoriously fickle. And in the ever-changing political landscape of the UK it’s difficult to predict the next five or 10 years. So if it all ended tomorrow for Anas Sarwar MP, would he be ready to throw himself back into the rigours of general practice?
“As long as I am an MP I will give it my 100 per cent commitment, but if that was to change, I would have no hesitation in returning to dentistry. I think it offers a great career, and can be a rewarding one financially. But equally as important, it gives the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.”