April 19. 2024. 9:42

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SNP leadership contest: Kate Forbes defiant despite backlash over equal marriage views

Scottish National Party (SNP) leadership candidate Kate Forbes has denied her attempt to replace Nicola Sturgeon is over before it has begun, after her comments about her personal opposition to equal marriage prompted an immediate and furious backlash.

Ms Forbes said the public were “longing for a politician to answer straight questions with straight answers”, as prominent members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) who had previously backed her attempt to become the next SNP leader after Sturgeon’s unexpected resignation last week, withdrew their support and LGBT+ party members described their “anger and shock”.

Ms Forbes, who has been on maternity leave from her role as finance secretary, told reporters on Monday she would not have voted for Holyrood’s equal marriage legislation had she been an MSP at the time, just hours after launching her campaign.

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By lunchtime on Tuesday, the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch had lost at least half of her original MP and MSP supporters, as she doubled down on her “straight-talking”, telling Sky News that having children – and sex – outside marriage was “wrong according to my faith”.


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A source working closely with Ms Forbes’s campaign acknowledged that the past 24 hours had been “bruising”, but underlined that she had always been honest about her religious beliefs and that her refusal to “put up a pretence in order to win votes” was a sign of integrity.

Clare Haughey, the minister of children and young people, who had earlier nominated Ms Forbes for her “skills, knowledge, experience”, responded: “I absolutely and completely support equal marriage. I am unequivocal on this issue. I cannot continue to support Kate’s leadership campaign.”

[ Paul Gillespie: Scottish independence is at a crossroads ]

Richard Lochhead and Tom Arthur, two other Scottish government ministers, and Holyrood’s health committee convener, Gillian Martin, likewise withdrew their backing, while SNP MP Hannah Bardell posted at length on Twitter about how “hurtful and painful” Ms Forbes’s comments were to her LGBT+ friends.

Pete Wishart, the party’s longest-serving Westminster figure, who had previously urged Ms Forbes not to be deterred from standing for the leadership because of “all this rubbish about her religious beliefs” swiftly moved to distance himself from her campaign, tweeting: “Kate had every chance to say that she would be prepared to come in behind the parties [sic] social liberal agenda. It looks like she wasn’t prepared to take it.”

Her comments revealed deep divisions between her and the frontrunner, Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf, on LGBT+ rights. The third candidate to put herself forward, Ash Regan, a former minster who resigned over Holyrood’s gender recognition Bill, has yet to speak at length to the media.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that she is to resign from her role, saying the "time is now." Video: Reuters

Ms Forbes also said she would not challenge the UK government’s block on Holyrood’s gender recognition reform Bill, and did not support self-identification for trans people.

Mr Yousaf told a press conference earlier in the day that he backed Ms Sturgeon’s positions on same-sex marriage, abortion clinic buffer zones, banning conversion practices and gender recognition, confirming he would “absolutely” challenge Westminster’s use of section 35 to prevent the Bill – which was supported cross-party in Holyrood – going for royal assent.

[ Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation may expose the deep fissures within Scotland’s SNP ]

Ms Forbes, a member of the socially conservative, evangelical Free Church of Scotland, told BBC Radio Scotland on Tuesday morning her views were “fairly mainstream Christian teaching” but that media reporting did not “allow for much nuance”.

She repeated the position reported by many outlets on Monday night, including the Guardian: “I will defend to the hilt everybody’s right in a pluralistic and tolerant society to live and to love free of harassment and fear. And in the same way, I hope others can be afforded the rights as people of faith to practise fairly mainstream teaching. That is the nuance that we need to capture.”

She said that there was “no question” that she defended the legal right to equal marriage and that questions about whether she would have voted against that right were “hypothetical”.

[ The Irish Times view on the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon ]

“The risk is that we are saying certain public offices in Scotland are barred either to people of faith or … the people of faith that we don’t like – if we are proposing that you can only participate in the public square in Scotland if you abide by certain issues, then we are essentially barring those who practise very mainstream religious teachings.”

She denied she was out of step with the progressive values of the party, saying the SNP had a “huge diversity of members, which reflects the diverse nature of Scotland”. – Guardian service