SNP activist Anum Qaisar tipped to be trailblazer

Anum Qaisar with Alex Salmond. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Anum Qaisar with Alex Salmond. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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A SCOTTISH National Party activist tipped to fight a key city seat at next year’s Holyrood elections could become Edinburgh’s first female Asian parliamentarian – and Scotland’s youngest ever MSP.

Anum Qaisar, 22, is favourite to be selected as the Nationalists’ candidate in Edinburgh Eastern, where former Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill is standing down.

The referendum saw the passing of the baton to a younger generation

Kenny MacAskill

She has already won the endorsement of Mr MacAskill and the seat’s three SNP councillors – Mike Bridgman, Alex Lunn and Stefan Tymkewycz.

Ms Qaisar was previously an active member of the Labour Party and was general secretary of Muslim Friends of Labour in Scotland.

But she switched to the Yes campaign in the run-up to last year’s referendum and later joined the SNP.

She is one of five contenders to become the SNP candidate in Eastern, where Labour will field Kezia Dugdale – expected to be elected new Scottish Labour leader later this month.

Mr MacAskill won the seat from Labour in 2007 and held it with a majority of 2233 in 2011.

If Ms Qaisar makes it to Holyrood she would be the first female Asian MP or MSP to represent a constituency in Edinburgh – although Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh, MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, grew up in the Capital.

Ms Qaisar’s grandfather came to Edinburgh in the 1970s and she was born here.

She said: “I hope I’m carving the way to prove that anyone can enter politics – and that in the future regardless of your gender, race and age, anyone with determination and passion can help society.

“It also shows how politics after the referendum has changed, that people are now actively encouraging the younger generation to become more politically active.”

In his message of endorsement for Ms Qaisar, Mr MacAskill said: “It was with a heavy heart that I decided it was best to stand down as SNP MSP for Edinburgh Eastern.

“However, the referendum saw the passing of the baton to a younger generation, both to take us on to independence and lead the battle against enforced austerity. Anum Qaisar is one of the brightest talents of that generation.

“I first met her during the referendum campaign, where her efforts were unstinting and her contribution immense. She’s hugely talented and highly personable. Anum would be an outstanding candidate and representative for Edinburgh Eastern.”

Cllr Lunn said the SNP needed a candidate who had the presence to replace Mr MacAskill. And Cllr Tymkewycz said: “Anum will lead a positive, vibrant and encouraging campaign.”

Selection contests are also under way to choose SNP candidates in Edinburgh Central, where Marco Biagi is standing down, and Edinburgh Northern & Leith, currently held by Labour.

Central, like Eastern, has an all-female shortlist with five would-be candidates.

In the running for both seats is Audrey Birt, a former nurse and healthcare manager, who was director for Scotland of Breakthrough Breast Cancer and national director for Diabetes UK Scotland before becoming a freelance consultant and coach.

Contenders for Central also include Jil Murphy, a mother-of-three who set up her own fashion design company at 19, later got a Masters degree in business administration and now runs a graphic design and marketing company.

She was organiser for Business for Scotland events in Edinburgh during the referendum and then joined the SNP. Sheena Cleland, who works as a parliamentary researcher and runs her own translation business, and Alison Dickie, a teacher and former Scottish Parliament official, are other contenders.

A total of ten hopefuls are bidding for the nomination in Northern & Leith, including former councillor Rob Munn, who came close to winning the Westminster candidacy; Ben Macpherson, a lawyer and rising star in the SNP; Leith councillor Adam McVey; Business for Scotland director Ivan McKee; and equality campaigner Jamie Szymkowiak.

Edinburgh Western MSP Colin Keir is up against six challengers, including his former aide Toni Giugliano, a member of the party’s national executive committee who has an endorsement from Alex Salmond.

Sitting MSPs Jim Eadie in Edinburgh Southern and Gordon MacDonald in Edinburgh Pentlands are set to be reselected unopposed.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com