Kurdish genocide survivor hopes to be first MSP for the Scottish National Party

Scottish Kurdish electoral candidate believes in Scottish independence Roza Salih (32) is originally Kurdish, and has been living in Scotland for nearly 20 years. She has fled Saddam Hussein Anfal genocide as a refugee, in which 182,000 civilians lost their lives. She is determined to become Glasgow’s first elected Kurdish MSP for the Scottish National Party (SNP), believing the party will deliver independence for Scotland. Zozan Yasar interviews her.

Bella Caledonia · Roza Salih Podcast interviewed by Zozan Yasar

Bella Caledonia: As a Kurd, you fled Saddam’s genocidal campaign against the Kurdish people. How does your experience as a refugee translate to your political career? 

I’ve always empathised with marginalised people. And those who have been to hardship. Escaping from dictatorship. And really, that kind of translated me  into campaigning and being empathetic.

Bella Caledonia: You have been in the spotlight as a strong female figure. Is this related to your background, and upbringing?

I think there’s a lot of different factors that have affected me as a person. My Kurdish identity of course, because the Kurdish people are fighting for the democracy and sovereignty in the Middle East, and I think, as essential for me. And also, I think my identities intertwined with Scottish identity because the Scottish people are also fighting for independence and freedom.

Bella Caledonia: You have played a strong role in Scottish society in representing minorities, how did you get involved in politics, and why?

I started when I was 15 years old. With the campaign of the Glasgow girls. And we fought a really good campaign, and the campaign was well known at the time in 2005. Because of our campaign we ended child detention in the UK. Since I was 15 years old, I feel like I am needed in the ethnic minority communities. Because I’m the voice for them in a way that the underrepresented people need to voice and I’ve kind of become that person in politics. I feel like I have a duty to continue that struggle. 

Bella Caledonia: What it is like being a Kurdish woman in Scotland. What are the similarities for you between the Kurdish fight for independence and the Scottish fight for independence?

As a Kurdish woman you know how important democracy is in Scotland, and we have that essential.  We can freely speak, we can stand up for people’s rights and I think that it’s very important to Kurdish women. In Scotland we have these opportunities. And I feel like, I have kind of thrived in Scotland that’s where many other Kurdish women as well because Scotland is a really welcoming country and tries to support ethnic minorities

In so many ways yes, because they both seek self-determination. But the complexity is different. in the United Kingdom, there is democracy, where the Scottish people have asked for a democratic referendum, and where the people can have a say to vote for it. But, it encourages that as much as is difficult, because there is no democracy and the people basically are brutally murdered for speaking up for self-determination.

I think that’s the main kind of definition differentiating between two nations. At the end they both want a kind of self-determination of their own people to make decisions for their own people.

Bella Caledonia: Of all the Scottish parties, why did you choose to be a part of SNP?

A lot of people asked me this question, and my strongest opinion came because I feel like the SNP is the strongest party in Scotland, seeking their main objective is independence. And I think for Scotland to be an independent country, we have to support the strongest party. And that’s why I feel like this was the right party to join, and it was the right time after the referendum in 2014 I felt. I believe that the Scottish National Party will deliver independence for Scotland.

I also chose to be part of the SNP because of my values, and the party’s values, asking for social justice and fairness in our alliance together. And that’s why I joined Scottish National Party.

Bella Caledonia: You’ve started a political career quite early. Why did you choose to go into politics?

I chose to go into politics to make a difference. I’ve campaigned all my life when I was very young. And I would like to continue my campaign in Parliament. I think that’s why I kind of studied politics. I never thought of that when I was a student, but as I grew up, I think that is the best way for me to have a voice for so many people in Parliament and make a difference that’s why I’ve gone to kind of seeking. I’m standing for the Scottish Parliament election.

Bella Caledonia: As a candidate for the SNP, what are the most important policies you wish to carry out?

 I have a lot of ideas, and I would like to implement them and work on them in the Scottish Parliament. And I’ll just name a few of them: I am very passionate about education for all. And that’s been my main campaign when I was a student, making sure is inclusive, that I have been campaigning for tenant rights and supporting living rent campaign.I think that’s very crucial for people living in Scotland, of course, and we’re coming out of the COVID-19 has affected a lot of businesses and people.

I would like to encourage a kind of green recovery by making sure our environments are also protected. I think essentially supporting the economy to go back to where it was, but also making sure we do work on environmental issues, and many, many more. I have a lot of other ideas, especially in relation to rehab being available for young people as they are in an early age, they become drug addicts.

Bella Caledonia: How do you see Scotland’s refugee policy?

Scotland is a welcoming country. Many refugees have been welcomed. And there’s been opportunities to integrate. More support has been given to asylum seekers and refugees and Scotland’s refugee policy. I would say it has a welcoming attitude towards refugees. However, the problem is that we need full powers over this area, rather than working with the Tories hostile environment. And, basically, they’re not listening to what the needs are refugees and asylum seekers are and what changes needed for the system to actually work for people. And I think that’s why the Scottish National Party is asking for devolve immigration powers and I think that’s crucial for Scotland, because not only that will support the economy but also it will enrich the Scottish culture and kind of different people coming together and that’s why I’m so excited about, that kind of future of Scotland, that we can see. And how it will be so diverse.

I think in Scotland, we are campaigning for independence of Scotland so we can have powers over immigration policies, as I explained, Scotland wants to be a welcoming country, and they want to reflect that on their policies, and make sure that people are welcomed and also integrate quickly. at this moment we have been overwhelmed like the Scottish people have not voted to exit Europe. The UK Government has decided that they know we are leaving the European Union, and we’re no longer going to be part of that. We want to join the European Union, to be an independent country with European because we think of ourselves as European. Many students, most of them leave, go over and study abroad the opportunity that provided them. All of that is gone, freedom of movement is gone. I mean, really goes back to the 1940s, and we’ve come such a long way, we’re progressing as a European country. And I think that’s why it’s important Scotland become an independent country joining Europe. We will get all of our rights by economics, freedom of movement, students’ opportunities abroad and so on. And I think that’s an important life for Scotland for Scotland to have the opportunity to be an independent country in Europe.

Scotland is a welcoming and inclusive country, and it treats people with dignity, and that will reflect our immigration policies.

Bella Caledonia: What are the main challenges still face in perceived diversity in the UK.

I have strong points on this because I don’t think there’s enough people, and specifically women of colour,  coming from ethnic minority backgrounds in key roles to improve diversity.

I think we need to do more. We need to have more representation of people from ethnic minorities, where people can make decisions for the communities, make sure that they are involved because many ethnic minority communities with just 4% of Scotland’s population. That means that we need to have the representation in Parliament. We need to have six people from ethnic minorities, and that we need to reflect on that. At this moment when you speak with ethnic minorities they don’t feel connected with parliament. I think if we change that we’re getting more diversity that we can change, change it for better.

Bella Caledonia: What role do you think you can play in the representation of people of colour in Scotland?

I think we need to lead by example. You know, show young people, the ethnic minority backgrounds that they can achieve anything, and black lives matter. I think it showed that many people spoke about it. And we reach, we just need to make sure that they’re the society that enclosed people from ethnic minorities. And they can achieve whatever white people can achieve. It doesn’t matter what colour of your skin is. Representation of people has to be led by example and more ethnic minority people have to also support other ethnic minorities, make sure they also achieve what they want and support them in their goals for the future.

Bella Caledonia: What is Scotland’s relationship with the Kurds? Do you think you can play a role in improving this relationship?

Scotland has a great Kurdish community. And I want to help them to thrive and to support the community. Coming from a Kurdish background,  I can shine a light on their particular issues. I can relate to the issues that they are facing. And, the SNP is supportive of repressive groups; they have made a lot of statements that they are in support of the Kurdish people. And I think if I am actually elected then I can help some as, so much. The Kurdish community, and sort of present them in Parliament. But also, I think I can play a role in that relationship with Scotland, and with Kurdistan as well. And I think I can play that part it’s kind of a landing with two different country and identities that both seek self determination

Bella Caledonia: Turkey is threatening the empowerment of Kurdish women in Syria and according to the UN Turkish-backed groups targeted almost every “aspect of Kurdish women’s lives” in areas under their control. What can be done to address this?

I think the international community needs to do more. And,that includes Scotland, as well, and Kurdish women have been on the forefront fighting ISIS,and then we should give them credit for the heroic. And, of course, also the  intonation community roles in solving Kurdish issues all around the world.

The United Nation says that women’s rights have been oppressed, and women’s rights have actually taken back all the things that they fought for, not only Turkey trying to take it away from them. And you know Turkey has also withdrawn the Istanbul convention of women’s rights, and we have to make sure that they are held accountable, for not protecting women’s rights.

What can be done to address this? I think a lot of things need to be done, and the international community has been silent. I think for far too long, and it’s time for them to hold Turkey accountable, make sure that they boycott Turkey on economic hardships, making sure that they suffer for the violation of women’s rights. And I think those things probably will make a difference but activists and politicians around the countries also need to speak about these violations of women.

Bella Caledonia: Recently a woman, Sarah Everard, was killed in the UK. What do you think should be done to protect women in the UK?

I think it’s shocking to hear news like that in a free society where women can be murdered. And I think for the safety of women, it’s been an issue for every woman who feels unsafe, when they are walking with fear if  there is a man needle behind me or like someone I get that much. I think a lot of women feel unsafe, at a certain time you’re out outside. And I think that culture needs to change. It is very difficult because men have to change. Shouldn’t be for women to always keep an eye on themselves and make sure that they’re saved. Men have to take responsibility for that kind of culture that has been created.

Bella Caledonia: How are you planning to pursue your election campaign in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

I think it’s been very difficult, and we hope that a lot of people vote by postal vote for safety reasons. And most of my campaigns have been on social media platforms online making videos, making graphics and speaking to people. As much as I can, on social media and kind of using technology for my advantages, because we can’t really go. I think it’s not really a normal way to campaign. But I think hopefully in April, we’ll be able to start convincing. Because a lot of people have received the vaccination. And that hopefully we are again, out of the restrictions of lockdown. but it has been very hard, and I’m trying to use these kinds of these interviews so more people can hear me speak and to know me who I am. Because you could have public meetings, you could organise such things but now all we can do is social media, it’s kind of our newspapers that can support and make sure that people know who we are.

And lastly, I just want to say, I’m really proud to be interviewed by a Kurdish woman.


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Comments (11)

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  1. Lordmac says:

    She will have her day after independence not before it

    1. Pub Bore says:

      Aye, pie in the sky when we die.

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    Good luck with your election campaign Roza.

  3. MBC says:

    Is she standing for the SNP or for a party called the Scottish Independence Party? Title misleading.

    1. Pub Bore says:

      I think it’s clear from the article that it’s the SNP for whom she is standing. In fact, she’s standing first in line as the top ‘list’ candidate in Glasgow; so, I think she’s a shoo-in for a seat in the next Scottish parliament.

      1. Hugh Kerr says:

        Well Pub Bores are more impressive when they know what they are talking about! Roza sounds great but she won’t get a list seat in Glasgow as the SNP get no list seats in Glasgow since they win all the constituency seats. Secondly should she get a list seat on 6% of members votes when Nicola Sturgeon got 31% of the members vote? Should Nicola lose her seat in Govan she would not be top of the list because she is not BAME is that right?

    2. Ive updated the title – not convinced anyone was confused but anyway

  4. SleepingDog says:

    Interesting, if brief, reflection on why someone joins a particular political party. Do you join a strong party and hope to influence its platform, or join a party whose platform you are already sympathetic with and hope to make it stronger? These are not the only scenarios, of course, but reflecting on these choices leads to further concerns about how political parties work, and their effects on members.

    I say this while recognising that there is a reasonable case for joining and voting SNP in order to hasten its demise through the crucible of independence. At any rate, hopefully avoiding the Japanese system:
    although we appear to have already sunk to the threshold of one-and-a-half party politics with the latest attempts to contrive the removal a functioning opposition (although ‘functioning opposition’ might be too high praise).

    Anyway, it would also be useful to understand how political parties function in other parts of the globe, including the various Kurdish ones. My view is that strong parties are a vehicle for entrenched institutional corruption, but I would be interested in counter-examples. Also weaker parties are often vehicles for institutional corruption, but they generally have to work harder and be more mindful of reprisals when out of office/coalition.

    1. Pub Bore says:

      In capitalist society, political parties function as brands. Society is divided in various ways, and parties form to organise those divisions into an electoral competition. Market research (polls) is used to gauge the distribution of voters’ preferences over political issues and adjust their marketing accordingly in order to become more competitive. Party politics thus reproduces and reinforces the material conditions that shape our lives within the matrix of capitalist relations of production.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Pub Bore, that is a dogmatic assertion. Why not begin with questions, like:
        What problems are political parties set up to resolve?
        Are those the right problems? How have things changed since political parties first formed? What are the pre-democratic origins of UK political parties, and what do those origins tell us about their nature?
        How effective are political parties at solving those problems?
        Are there better solutions to those problems?
        Does the political party system help or harm politics by association and/or shunting non-party politics from the mainstream?
        Are political parties effectively partisan, partial, representative of certain vested interests and can never represent the whole of society? Or can they/should they be all-inclusive? Especially if the former, how much political power should be vested in one party (that is, what checks and balances are needed against one-party rule)?
        Do political parties inevitably involve patronage? Are they always essentially conservative (small c) in that they want to preserve enough of the status quo to survive themselves?
        What could or should replace political parties? Do modern communications technologies and new policy-making ideas offer alternative solutions? Does our fast-moving modern world with its split-second and epochal dangers make 5-year-plan party programmes dangerously obsolete?
        Are national (or regional) political parties effective in addressing global (or local) problems? Do any set particularly good or bad examples worldwide for others to follow?
        Do political parties still appeal to the younger generations today? Are political parties an immature stage of politics, a shadow cast by less enlightened times? Or are they still the best solution we can some up with?

        1. Pub Bore says:

          The most important question for me is how political parties function in the matrix of power relations that constitutes our society. The conclusion I’ve formed from my reading is that, however they’ve functioned in the past and/or elsewhere, they now function here as little more than competing brands of the same managerial politics.

          I’ve found Peter Mair’s work particularly helpful in charting the history of political parties as a phenomenon in Western politics. In his last work, Ruling The Void, which was published posthumously in 2013, he argues that European countries and their clients and colonies are now governed by a managerial class that operates through state institutions, which offer relative long-term stability and continuity in the fickle world of elections, rather than through traditional political parties, to the extent that the régime under which we live here and now is better characterised as bureaucracy rather than democracy, with real power residing in the state institutions and their managers than in the hands of politicians.

          Give Peter Mair a read. It might help give you a handle on all your questions.

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