SHE’S had a meteoric rise in politics but can Fiji-born Simita Kumar capture Edinburgh South from Labour for the SNP?

The 36-year-old has barely had time to catch her breath since becoming the first person from an ethnic minority to lead a political group on one of Scotland’s biggest councils, but Kumar knows all about hard work.

Despite the election being called earlier than she had anticipated, Kumar is determined to do her best at Edinburgh City Council as well as campaign for election on July 4.

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She joined the SNP only a few years ago but although her rise has been quick, Kumar is far from a career politician. Her progress to date has been because others, impressed by her formidable ability and work ethic, have persuaded her to stand first for election as a councillor in 2022, then as a candidate for Edinburgh South and finally – just a few weeks ago – to become leader of the SNP group.

She is the first female leader of the group and – almost unbelievably – the only ethnic minority councillor in Edinburgh.

Having emigrated from Fiji with her family as a young teen, Kumar realised she had formed a strong allegiance to Scotland when she went to study in Manchester and found that England truly was a foreign country.

“It was funny because I had only been in Scotland a few years but when I went to Manchester to do my undergraduate degree, I very much identified as Scottish,” she tells the Sunday National.

“In England, I found people largely ignored Scotland. Scotland was an afterthought and when they talked about England, they meant the UK, and that really made me feel uncomfortable. I realised, wow, we do think differently and our identity is so different.”

When she moved back to Scotland, she started taking more interest in the SNP and independence, although initially when she moved from Fiji, her inclination was to support Labour.

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“In Fiji, politics is a big thing and because we are quite working class, we all voted Labour in Fiji.

“However, the more I found out what people were standing for here and their values, I started shifting in my thoughts because I found the SNP values and principles more aligned with mine. But again, I was still an immigrant and did not know where my place should be in that political spectrum so I did not initially identify with any one party.”

Initially, she focused on her career when she returned from Manchester and worked in oncology and haematology at the Sick Kids in Edinburgh before going on to deliver workshops for children and young people with long-term health conditions.

She has a master’s degree in health research and worked for the NHS on a range of public health topics, including screening and immunisation.

However, she began to become more involved in politics after the 2014 independence referendum.

“When Scotland voted No, it just really hurt me but I felt our case was so strong it could not be denied,” she says.

“Eventually, I joined the SNP because I wanted to be a little bit more on the front of that fight and conversation.”

Even so, when she was asked to stand for the council elections in 2022, she at first refused.

“I said no a million times because I worked for the NHS and loved my job but at the very last minute I did agree to stand and was elected,” she says.

Kumar admits the last two years have been “transformational” for her.

“I have a good academic background and a healthy work experience in the voluntary sector and the NHS so feel like I have a bit of experience but you have to know everything about everything in a council.

“It was quite a steep learning curve but it is a job like any other so I just put my head down, read as much as I could and questioned things.”

When the leadership role arose she did not at first think that would be her next step but was again persuaded to stand and was elected by the group.

“It’s exciting because it is a huge opportunity and I want to make sure that while we are in opposition we are still doing what needs to be done for Edinburgh residents,” says Kumar.

One of her first votes as leader was to attempt to remove the Tories from the Labour-Tory-LibDem coalition administration. She says it shocks her that Labour could even think about ruling in coalition with the Tories.

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“It is unbelievable and I am still so shocked about it because Labour is meant to be for the working-class and the left-leaning [voters] and when I see how Labour are behaving and voting, I want to shout out to everyone to say they are no different to the Tories in terms of policies and behaviour,” Kumar says.

“It is not just locally but nationally, as most Labour policies are so identical to Tory policies. I feel even in opposition we have an important role to play because we have to speak up for the working class because Labour are not going to any more.

“Labour voted to keep the Tories in the council administration but voters don’t like it because it is not what they voted for.”

The SNP group under Kumar’s command did succeed in passing a motion to request Edinburgh Airport bosses to refuse to accept Rwandan rendition flights.

Whether she becomes an MP or remains as leader of the SNP group on the council, Kumar says she will continue to fight for equality and action around climate change which is already having a huge impact on island nations like Fiji and is being felt in Scotland too.

“My passion is working with children, families, and helping anyone impacted by inequalities, whether as a result of income, gender or any other factor,” she said.

“I am a woman of colour and come from a working-class family, so I deeply understand the need to reduce inequalities and achieve a level playing field for all.

“I’m also a strong advocate for achieving action around climate change. It’s already here and it’s devastating to think that many islands will disappear in our lifetime.”