Below is a contribution from Mercy Kamanja, a passionate activist for Scottish Independence, Alba Party member and strong advocate for diversity in Scotland. Mercy participated in the Leaving A Light On For Scotland Virtual Rally this weekend Organised by Netherlands and Germans for Scottish independence.
I was pleased when I was asked to join The Leave the Light On for Scotland Virtual Rally. As the only African Woman actively engaged in Scottish politics, many always do ask me why do I do it. Are you paid they would ask or why are you do it yet, for many years now, over a decade to be precise I have seen you mobilising groups, they have never given you any political position, and they will never include you, I am told. You are wasting your time just like the rest of us have done in the past. My answer has always been the same. Why would I not be involved in Scottish politics?
When I arrived in Scotland I was very broken, at the bottom of the sea. We were brought in by Home Office in the middle of the night from England, taken to an unknown place, offered breakfast, allocated a worker and then moved to flats before dawn. Aster seeking in my flat, I, later on, walked around to map the area. Back at the flat, there was peace and tranquillity, I felt free. I knew I had found a home for me, a country to raise my children.
For the first time since I was born, I felt very safe and very free. Free from violence, free from cultural norms, free from family expectations of how a girl should be, I was free to do anything I wanted. Free to go back to school without anyone questioning or challenging my decision, free to join politics and to campaign for equality positions, free to put myself forward as a political candidate. Scotland gives me the freedom to be the person I can be. Scottish people scoped me from the ground, they empowered me with love and support, knowledge and education, they treated me when I was unwell with no hope of recovery, they supported my political ambitions when I stood for public positions, they have made me who I am. Scotland gave me freedom and now I know why Scotlands freedom is important, the reason why I am part of the YES campaign, the reason to liberate Scotland. Soar Alba 🏴
My children are raised in Scotland. My son was born in Kenya came as a toddler. My daughter was born in Essex England, she arrived in Scotland a few months after. They are both educated in Scotland. I don’t see any possibilities of them going back to Africa to live there. Scotland is where their future is hinged. Scotland is our life, our hope, our home and our future, our country.
I can understand why some Continental Africans and Caribbean Africans feel politics is not for them. We are indeed excluded and largely lack representation in any political party in Scotland. I am not sure why yet we fully support political parties with our votes. Questions thrown at me almost daily are for example, ” why are you not included in Alba raising women group yet you are a woman, had been women Officer at SNP for the last three years and are actively engaged. Are they expecting you to form an African only women group at the Alba party, and why should you have a different group. Is it because you are different? Does it mean Africans cannot be part of the existing Alba Rising Women Groups or it is just you?” etc. The public’s are right to ask questions, yet I have no answer to give.
Political parties have a duty to include us and they must demonstrate that equality policies they have outlined in their manifesto are real not just facades. They must admit they are not inclusive enough and they must start being inclusive right now if they expect us to join their movements. Political and public life should be organised to maximise the equal chances of minorities to be involved in democratic politics. To vote and stand for election, to take part in party and political processes, to contribute to public debate and policy decisions, and to rise to the top in elected public offices both internal and external. A more diverse political party offers a greater proportion of the electorate a sense of belonging and inclusion.
My message to diversity groups is to remind you that our gender, religion, race or sexuality should not be a limitation on our value, or our ability to contribute to society and especially in decisions to be part of the YES campaign and independence movement. My challenge is to remind us to look back from where we started when we arrived, the Scots walked the walk with us. They provided us with food. They got us clothes we used to collect in churches. They were there campaigning with us for leave to remain. I am not sure where we parted ways, all I know is we should be together in the YES campaign.
A message to political leaders is to remind you of the importance of diversity visibility in political parties and public positions. The role will play in creating a more open and less intimidating space for marginalised groups to engage with the political system. I am hopeful that the increase in visible diversity in Scottish political parties for both internal and external positions will act as a catalyst, enabling further engagement from previously disenfranchised groups.
In reference to internal and external party differences, I will be pleased the day political parties will address policy differences both internally within parties and externally with other political parties and bring unity in the country. A lack of unity within parties can have a significant and negative effect on the success of any political party or any elections and party memberships. In particular, it will inhibit the desires of taking part especially when diversity groups are forced to take sides in matters some might not feel comfortable taking any sides. When democracy is applied within political parties, it allows members to stick to policies they are comfortable with and this will pave ways for party participation without fear of ridicule.
Intra-party divisions certainly have the potential to cause parties to lose members, with such losses resulting in electoral defeat. The basic point is that parties whose members openly feud and attack others for all to see do hinder growth in membership and cause harm if party members and citizens at large are left with the impression that division means dysfunctional, and an inability to focus on the important problems of the day. More so when those involved are high-ranking politicians.
In short, it does not look good when party’s leaders tend to favour a certain group, are at odds with each other, with their members or with other political parties. Having said that, we expect to see some level of disagreement. After all, parties are typically composed of various factions, and parties are full of men/women who are likely to run into different kinds of problems in time. However, when private disagreements are made public, or when a dispute manifests itself into something more sinister or damaging a party’s efforts to tackle a pressing policy issue or crisis for example – then the vast majority of the public’s starts to question the validity of such parties especially if they are claiming to be the pioneers of independence. Citizens will lack faith in independence for Scotland, once their faith in those leaders drops. I hope political parties will diversify their approach, to be more inclusive, look to resolve their differences with reason and be diplomatic in all their approaches. Thank you.
– Mercy Kamanja | Alba Party Founder Member
Mercy’s Speech from this rally can be viewed below.