WHAT made Roza Salih? Was it the blood on her street when she was a little girl? Was it the death of her grandfather and her uncles? Was it the gun her dad kept close to hand? Was it the detention camp and the guards? The high-rise in Drumchapel or the hills in Kurdistan? The moments of racism? Or the moments of kindness? Roza Salih knows who she is. “I’m a Glasgow girl,” she says. But becoming it has been hard.

The chances are you’ll know a little of Roza’s story already. You may have seen the stage play or the documentaries that were inspired by the story of how she and six other schoolgirls fought to prevent the deportation of one of their friends – and won. They became known as the Glasgow Girls and, some 15 years on and now in their early thirties, they remain close friends. Their bond – and their beliefs – are still strong.

And for Roza, the campaign goes on. Recently elected as a councillor for Pollok in Glasgow – making her the first refugee ever to be elected to a Scottish council – she says that one day she’d like to be an MSP and help set up a new immigration system in Scotland. She knows how harsh the current one can be. She remembers her father losing his right to work and how staff in a shop refused to accept her mother’s food vouchers. It was humiliating, says Roza, and we can do better. She thinks we could have a system based on common sense and compassion.

So where does all the commitment and belief come from? A lot of it is from her extraordinary parents: dad Saleem and mum Tania. Today, Roza and Tania are meeting me in the Starbucks at the Silverburn cinema near Roza’s office and, while the place buzzes with music and kids and people heading to see the new Elvis movie, the two women talk about the life they used to have in Kurdistan – the life they had to flee.

It was the late 1990s. The family were living in the city of Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Saleem was a teacher and Tania was an accountant for an electricity firm. Financially, they were comfortable, but in every other respect life was hard. Tania was a campaigner for women’s rights and Saleem was active in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, both of those things meant danger.

Tania tells me what it was like. “There were killings, there was violence, there were executions, there was nothing to be happy about,” she says. Many of her relatives were in the Communist party and all of them were active in the fight to win Kurdish independence from Iraq. One of Tania’s brothers, Jamal, was killed by Saddam Hussein’s forces in the mountains; another, Rizgar, was sent to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. He was originally sentenced to death and it was only when the family paid a big bribe that he was sent to prison for life instead.

Tania shakes her head as she remembers. “Sometimes now,” she says, “I imagine that life and I don’t understand how we coped. It was hard.” Quite often the family would see violence in the streets outside their home – Roza remembers pools of blood on the road, and her father, a Kalashnikov in his hand, hiding her in the house. Two of her uncles were executed. And her grandfather. Eventually the family decided they had to get out or die.

Roza was 11 when all of this was happening and she remembers it vividly. “I grew up very quickly because of it,” she says. “I’ve seen things that a child shouldn’t see. People getting killed. People shot in the street in front of our home. I didn’t have a proper childhood. Most Scots couldn’t imagine what I’ve gone through. To be honest, I’m glad I’m not there.”

As the violence escalated, her dad Saleem made the decision that they had to get out and he came to the UK first to plan the family’s escape. The plan was that he would then apply to have his family over too, but before long Tania realised that they couldn’t stay another minute and had to get out right away. So in 2001, they paid a large amount of money for a ticket out, they left their house behind and headed for Turkey, then the UK.

Their first experience of the country was a detention camp in London and it wasn’t good. No one was allowed to visit and no one was allowed to leave and there were security guards on duty to ensure the rules were obeyed. “None of us could speak English,” says Roza. “The only phrase we knew was ‘no English’. My sister was one years old and I was scared for her the most because she was so young. We were leaving our home country. We didn’t know where we were going. We couldn’t speak the language. It was terrifying.”

The next stage was Glasgow: Knightswood, then Drumchapel, where they lived in a tower block and again, the adjustment was hard. Isolation. Racism. “In Drumchapel, we had some issues with racism,” says Roza, but by now her English was improving and she would speak to people directly. “Once I spoke to the people, they they could see I’m integrated and they had a different mindset towards you.” Another issue was worry about safety. Roza remembers walking from the station down dark lanes with a rape alarm in her hand.

The family were also struggling with an immigration system Roza says is deliberately harsh. “The system is designed to psychologically affect people,” she says, “to make people’s lives miserable, it’s designed to keep people out and deter people from coming here. It’s designed to be as horrible as possible.” In 2002, her father, who had been working as an interpreter, was told his right to work had been rescinded. He could no longer work or earn money – a situation that wasn’t resolved for eight years.

It meant money was tight and the family were using government vouchers to buy food. “I remember once I went with mum to a supermarket and they didn’t accept the vouchers,” says Roza. “It was really humiliating.” Tania tells me people in the queue offered to pay for their shopping but she wouldn’t let them. That has been their experience in Scotland in many ways: kindness on the one hand, racism on the other; acceptance and rejection.

All of these early experiences – as well as the conversations the family had about politics and women’s rights when they still lived in Kurdistan – were helping to form Roza’s principles and beliefs as well as her willingness to stand up for them. I ask Tania what Roza was like as a girl. “She always had passion,” says Tania, “She was seven when she was talking about what to do in Kurdistan. She was passionate about politics as a child – always.”

At school in Drumchapel, another influential figure was Roza’s English teacher Euan Girvan. It was Mr Girvan who encouraged Roza and her friends to form the Glasgow Girls in response to the detention of their friend Agnesa Murselaj, from Kosovo. They campaigned for her release, met First Minister Jack McConnell, and eventually won their campaign in 2008 when the Murselaj family was given leave to remain. That campaign is still a large part of who Roza is. “We formed the Glasgow Girls because the immigration system is awful,” she says. “I’ve had to fight all my life since I’ve come to this country. Why are we detaining people as criminals?”

The experience as a Glasgow Girl is still one of the factors that directly informs Roza’s new job as a councillor. Greater Pollok, she says, has the third largest ethnic minority population of any ward in Scotland and she wants to represent everyone. One of her other priorities is safety for woman – she still remembers walking in fear down those lanes in Drumchapel and would like to see more street lighting in her ward. She would also like to see more diversity in the job she does – one of her first impressions of walking into the council chamber was that there were a lot of older men. She wants to see more councillors like her.

As an SNP councillor, the other great priority in her politics is Scottish independence and it’s a commitment that has a direct and powerful link to her life before she came to Scotland. Kurdistan comprises territory in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria and for decades many Iraqi Kurds, including Roza’s relatives, have been pursuing independence. A referendum held by regional officials in 2017 got a majority that Nicola Sturgeon can surely only dream of: 92% for Yes. The future does not look good though: Roza doesn’t believe she will see independence for Kurdistan in her lifetime.

For a young Kurdish Scot like Roza, the parallels between Scotland and Kurdistan are obvious and powerful. “There are a lot of similarities,” she says, “because Kurdistan is a nation or a country that would like to be independent and self-rule and not be governed by other people. That’s why I joined the SNP – it’s because of the independence movement and that identity I have within my family - my uncles and my father all fought for democracy and freedom.”

The SNP was not necessarily Roza’s only choice however, coming as she does from a radical background and a family of socialists. There was a time, she says when she might have joined Labour but it was the harsh treatment of her father in 2002, under a Labour government, that turned her against the party. Another early experience was doing work experience in Nicola Sturgeon’s office in 2006. “I think she had an effect on me as a person because I saw her as a strong woman and she knew what she wanted for Scotland,” she says. Looking back, she thinks that experience was a turning point for her.

As it happens, she didn’t actually join the SNP until 2015 after the excitement of campaigning for Yes. Her short time as a councillor - as well as her work in the office of the MP Chris Stevens - has also made her realise there’s a lot of work to do. It’s interesting that the Glasgow Girls themselves were a microcosm of Scotland as a whole: split down the middle, with some for Yes, some for No and some undecided. There’s also still strong support for Labour in Pollok and other areas like it. Roza thinks it's about half and half SNP/Labour and that’s not a bad thing, she says, we should have different voices.

As for the idea of a referendum next year, Roza tells me she’s confident it will happen, although it’s not the most convincing expression of confidence I must say. She also says that if Yes is to win in the future, the campaign will have to be different to the one in 2014 which she thinks was centred too much on Glasgow.

“Our independence campaign could have been better organised,” she says. “We can do better this time. We should focus on certain cities instead of Glasgow – we know Glasgow will be Yes. I felt like it was very based in Glasgow.”

I ask her about my home town of Aberdeen. “That’s a city I think we should be focusing on,” she says. “Aberdeen is mostly rich people, I’m sorry. Oil people like the revenues. The mindset is very capitalist and the way they are thinking is ‘I’m good, why should I vote for Yes? I have a good earning, I’m rich, this is not good for me, I’ll be voting No’. They don’t understand what’s important. If we become independent, oil plays a big part. People can ‘say we don’t have revenues’ but we do have oil and Scotland only gets nine per cent of that oil.” Yes, but the oil price crashed didn’t it? “Yes, but it’s increased now.” What any referendum campaign needs to do, she says, is get through to people on higher incomes, such as those in the oil industry.

“That should be the focus,” she says, “because we need to win them over and I would argue for the benefits but also the weaknesses that there are in the UK. Brexit, which is hugely damaging the economy, our fisheries have been affected. We’re going down economically.” But don’t people worry about their prosperity, their pensions? “People have already paid their pensions to the UK and they should get their share of that money and that’s how we can resolve the argument. It’s our money. It’s the pensioners’ money, they should get it.”

We talk a little more about some of the other possible economic and practical consequences of independence, but in many ways her form of nationalism is simpler than that and is based on a pure idea of self-rule, inspired directly by the story of her family, of Kurdistan and her parents. “My mum and dad have been an exceptional and extraordinary influence on me,” she says. “They shaped me and gave me freedom to go out and be involved which was important as a woman.” She never felt the need to rebel against them, she says, because they were always so open-minded She would go out to bars with her Scottish friends (and her favourite show is Still Game) but she is also fiercely and directly linked to her Kurdish story. “I have a Kurdish identity,” she says, “but I have a Scottish identity as well.”

This dual identity, says Roza, is the key to doing immigration better – help people to integrate, she says, and it work well. But she also realises there’s still a lot of progress to be made. She tells me about the campaigning she did for the council elections and all the incidents of racism and sexism she experienced. I ask her if racism and sexism are still serious problems in Scotland and her answer is clear: yes, definitely.

“I spoke with so many people during my campaign,” she says. “You get some who are very nice but then you get others who would ask ‘are you not too young as a woman to be involved?’ There’s also a lot of indirect racism such as ‘what is your accent? Where does that accent from? Where are you from originally?’ I would say I grew up in Glasgow and all I’ve known is Glasgow - maybe my accent is different because I speak other languages but that doesn’t make me less of a Scot.” She doesn’t think the problem is as serious as it in some other parts of the UK however. “I have been welcomed by a lot of people and the opportunities that have been provided to me have been amazing. That acceptance has given me the values I have. I’m very grateful.”

One of the most striking examples of the acceptance she’s received has been her election as a councillor, which Nicola Sturgeon said brought a tear to her eye. Roza’s mother is also exceptionally proud. “I was very happy to see her campaigning,” says Tania. “We have to give back something because we’re safe and living a better life. I always taught my daughter to give back.”

As for the question of whether Tania or Roza will ever go back to Kurdistan one day, it’s not looking good. The closest Roza ever got was a student trip to Turkey but Tania says it is still far too dangerous to return. “I would love to go back,” she says, “but it’s still not safe – not in our position because I was a leader for women.” Some progress has been made in the cities, she says, but elsewhere in the country, the position of women is still poor and the government is doing nothing. “They are against women’s rights so they threaten to kill me,” she says. “I still have enemies who would want to kill me.”

In some ways, though, Tania is optimistic. Iraq could be a rich country, she says – richer even than Britain – and has so much potential. She is also happy that other family members who fled Kurdistan settled all over Europe and are now living happy lives in Sweden, Germany and Greece. As for the UK, like her daughter, she would like to see improvements to the immigration system so others do not have to experience what they did. When Roza finished high school, for a while she was blocked from going to university because of her migrant status and that isn’t fair says Tania.

Roza herself would also like to see improvements but as she looks around the world she’s not always optimistic. She mentions women’s rights in America and asks ‘where are we going?’ The picture in Kurdistan also gets her down. “There’s a lot of corruption in Kurdistan and there were people who betrayed my uncle and my family who died for the cause of independence,” she says. “My family were hoping for the Kurdish people to be a beacon of hope for the middle east - that’s what we fought for but it’s not there. The society is going backwards.”

For Scotland, however, she’s much more hopeful, although she admits we have the same problems others do. “I have people treating me differently everyday as a woman from an ethnic minority,” she says, “Sometimes I ignore it and focus on the positive things in society but it’s hard. I’m going to be honest with you. I sometimes think why am I being treated this way? Is it because the colour of my skin isn’t white enough?”

But Roza does have a plan. She’s a councillor now and is starting to get to grips with what bothers her constituents (bins, potholes and grass cutting in that order). She’d also like to be an MSP and help to establish the immigration system in a newly independent Scotland. But whatever she does, she will surely apply the passion she learned in the hills of Kurdistan and the high-rises of Drumchapel. She’s a Glasgow Girl and always will be.