My Story

How it all began

I was born in Glasgow as Osama Saeed Bhutta to Kenyan and Pakistani parents, my father a school teacher and mother a care worker. Throughout childhood they instilled in me the importance of education, hard work and social justice. I lived the latter through my own difficult experiences with racism, but crucially they also taught me the importance of acting for others.

They gave me formative experiences in childhood like personally sticking their necks out for victims of domestic violence and helping refugees from the war in Bosnia. I’ve also learned so much from my wife in nearly two decades of marriage and we have two cute (only saying this because it will annoy them!) teenagers.

Campaigning

My first public foray into campaigning was as an organiser and press officer in the Stop the War movement against Tony Blair’s illegal Iraq invasion. I spoke as a student at the historic demonstration of 15th February 2003 in front of hundreds of thousands of people outside the Labour Party conference at Glasgow’s SECC. Convinced that Scotland should not have been dragged into this bloodshed against our will, I joined the SNP.

I campaigned on many human rights and peace issues in the years that followed. Some of it even ended up as law after I called for legislation to tackle the scourge of forced marriage.

After the Glasgow Airport attack in 2007, Humza Yousaf and I organised the world’s first Muslim-organised protest against Al-Qaeda terrorism. It was backed by incredible coalition of mosques, churches, trade unions, police and all our major political parties, turning a potential moment of division into beautiful unity.

SNP

I worked for the party for a short period, with a particular interest in economic issues. My favourite moment as a doorstep activist was our first election win in 2007. We always thought it could happen, but living through that moment, seeing history happen and minds changing, felt unreal.

In 2010, I was selected as the SNP’s Westminster candidate in Glasgow Central. We conducted an energetic campaign in the constituency which brought a lot of new people into the party. In the aftermath of the financial crash, I advocated for a Green New Deal and the need for the High Speed Rail line to start in Scotland if it was to be worthwhile. We moved the SNP from third to second place, increasing our share of the vote when the national trend was downward.

Going global

After that I left for the Middle East to become head of communications for the global news network Al Jazeera. I organised campaigns which helped us overtake the BBC’s audience share in target Asian, African and American markets. I was particularly proud that we beat them in their own backyard to become RTS News Channel of the Year in 2012.

It wasn’t all fun. Four of our journalists were jailed in Egypt and I had to run the campaign to get them released. The team I led ran a noisy worldwide campaign which gained support from Barack Obama and the UN Secretary General, won a raft of awards, and ultimately got our boys home to their families.

This led to me becoming global director of comms at Amnesty International, the world’s biggest human rights organisation. As well as publicising abuses and violations, I worked with activists around the world to make human rights popular, at a time when they have been under sustained attack like never before.

What’s next?

I had to leave non-partisan Amnesty to take this chance to run for election. As an MSP, I’d relish working closely with people and communities on the issues that are important to them. The world today often seems bleak but I also believe we’re on the verge of major progressive change. Together, we will win.

Addressing a CND rally in Edinburgh against Trident renewal
Speaking at the Scottish Parliament
Campaigning for High Speed Rail with then transport minister Stewart Stevenson
Being interviewed by the Associated Press at Al Jazeera HQ
I was global director of comms at Amnesty International. I left the job to run in this selection contest.

“I have devoted myself to the cause of the people. It’s a good cause. It shall ultimately prevail.”

I grew up a stone’s throw away from Thomas Muir’s residence at Huntershill. His famous statement is always in my head.