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NICOLA STURGEON doesn’t often find herself in second place. Since taking over as First Minister in 2014 she has led the SNP — according to my count — to victory in six consecutive elections, and has been a sitting MSP since 1999.
But heading into next week’s Scottish Parliamentary elections, there is one candidate who finds themselves ahead of the SNP leader — her party colleague and the lead list candidate for Glasgow, Roza Salih.
Since arriving in Scotland from Kurdistan as a child, Salih — now 31 — has made a name for herself as a strident defender of human rights and socialist values. While still a pupil, Salih was one of the well-known Glasgow Girls, who lobbied to stop the UK government carrying out dawn raids after seeing a schoolmate detained by the Home Office.
Years of campaigning followed with the National Union of Students, the Scottish Refugee Council, trade unions and Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan — a group she co-founded — and Salih now hopes to bring that experience to front-line politics.
Having narrowly missed out on becoming a councillor in 2017, Salih now works with SNP MP and fellow socialist Chris Stephens, managing the party’s office in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow. If elected, the Scot would become the first refugee — and the first woman of colour — elected to the Scottish Parliament, something she says would be extremely important for others to see.
“Someone from my background making it as a candidate who is top of the Glasgow list is a huge change to the way our political system has been for years, and it is much more reflective of Glasgow and Scotland’s society,” she says.
“Since I was young I have campaigned against immigration and tried to improve the system and you find that you can’t relate to Tory policies. As much as you try you cannot change anything and I see independence as a way out of the horrible, cruel system we have, not just with immigration, but with benefits.
“The possibility of independence is something I am very passionate about. For me it is that possibility of that future, progressive Scotland that we can create. We see that Scotland is a different country and with independence I think we can achieve more.”
But why the SNP? Scotland has no shortage of left-of-centre parties, but the SNP has a fledgling left-wing movement, with the SNP Socialists — a group which Salih is an executive member of — leading this shift within the party’s internal structures.
She also reiterated there are battles she has ahead of her within the SNP — ridding Scotland of nuclear weapons and changing the current stance on Nato membership. But she makes no apologies for which ticket she will be on come May 6.
“I know what I am standing for. I am a socialist. In the future, there may be a good socialist party that can create that progressive Scotland. I’m not saying Scotland is going to be perfect after independence, but we are going to have to create a society that we want.
“Traditionally Labour would have been a good fit for me — I would have joined Labour as a trade unionist. But I don’t think Labour is representing me on the issue of independence, and you can see what is going on with them. The way they’re treating candidates like Hollie Cameron in Kelvin. What kind of party would do that? I don’t believe they are socialists.
“I would be a very vocal person on left ideas, and the party needs more lefties. We will be in government for the next five years — that’s a fact — and I could be a very good challenger in the party.
“I have aligned myself to the SNP on independence, but I have a very socialist upbringing — my family used to be in the [Iraqi] Communist Party. I’m moving the party to be a more socialist party.
“I know what socialism is and how we can help working people.”
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