The Kurdish refugee candidate battling for Scottish independence

Roza Salih, who arrived in Scotland at 12, says she is committed to fighting for human rights and sovereignty.

Roza Salih, right, pictured with her boss, the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon [Courtesy: Roza Salih]

Glasgow, Scotland – Roza Salih has never been one to stand on the sidelines.

She arrived in a cold and grey Glasgow as a refugee, at 12 years old in 2001.

A few years later, Salih, together with some school friends, fronted a successful campaign to stop their fellow classmate from being deported with her family to Kosovo.

The group, dubbed the “Glasgow Girls”, made headlines for their support of Agnesa Murselaj, and inspired an award-winning musical of the same name.

Today, at 31, Salih, who is of Kurdish origin, has her eyes firmly fixed on political success.

She is campaigning to win a seat in the Scottish Parliament election on May 6 in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, but doing so in a global pandemic has not proved easy.

“I’ve been using Twitter, Facebook, and I’m now using TikTok,” the Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate told Al Jazeera.

“I’m a person who is very positive and who loves to talk to constituents face to face, so it’s sad that I’ve not been able to do that, and that that quality of my candidacy has not come out.”

She joined the pro-Scottish independence SNP in 2014, not long after the people of Scotland voted relatively narrowly to remain in the United Kingdom in a referendum in September of that year.

A human rights campaigner and graduate of Glasgow’s University of Strathclyde, Salih has long been critical of the United Kingdom’s immigration system, a matter reserved for the parliament in London.

“[Refugees] are coming to [Britain] for safety, and the way the system is treating them is really inhumane,” she said, highlighting the “cruelty” of detentions, lock-changes and evictions.

“So that was the push for me for Scottish independence – that we could create the kind of system that has dignity and human rights at the centre of everything we do.”

Born in the northern Iraqi Kurdish region, which has long struggled to be a sovereign nation-state itself, Salih is no stranger to the concept of independence.

She is on good terms with her boss, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and even managed to catch up with her on the campaign trail when the 50-year-old SNP leader made a recent election stop in Glasgow.

Salih has looked up to Sturgeon for years, and, as a 17 year old, even joined the SNP veteran politician for a week’s work experience.

The politics and law graduate is also passionate about Palestinian rights – “[they] have the right to self-determination” too, she said, and she sees the pro-European Union SNP as an internationalist party rather than a nationalist group.

She is standing as a so-called list candidate for the SNP in Glasgow, and if successful would be Scotland’s first former refugee to be elected to the devolved Edinburgh-based parliament, which was established in the Scottish capital in 1999.

Salih’s party is hoping to win a majority of seats in the election, which, under the Scottish Parliament’s mixed electoral system, has only ever been achieved once before by the SNP in 2011).

They want to force the hand of Conservative Party British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to accept and endorse a second independence poll.

At the very least, a majority of pro-independence candidates, including those from the Scottish Green Party, look certain to be elected on May 6 at the expense of its pro-Union opponents, according to opinion polls.

But given the choice between her own success, and Scotland becoming an independent country in the next four or five years, which would Salih choose?

“Of course independence,” she said, with a laugh. “I do have the hope of being elected, of course, but I think independence is bigger than any one person.”

Source: Al Jazeera