The SNP has long been considered a progressive party, but that could be called into question if Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber, and Badenoch, is elected as its new leader.
This week, Forbes launched her bid for the position of leader of the SNP, and in the words of a senior member of her campaign, she has “fucked it” immediately. But it’s worth taking a look at her views to understand just why her statements put her at odds with so many members of the SNP.
The equal rights to marriage for all people is something that has been enshrined in Scottish law since the passage of The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, two years before Forbes became an MSP. It passed 105 for to 18 against. This week, just hours after launching her bid to become the new leader of the SNP, Kate Forbes said that she would have been a part of the minority to vote against equal marriage rights.
“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” she told The Scotsman. She claimed to be following the teachings of “most mainstream religions” in this regard. It is worth unpacking this.
The other half of the statement that marriage is only valid when it’s between a man and a woman is that relationships are only legitimate when they are between a man and a woman. Anyone in a same-sex relationship, or any relationship involving anyone beyond the gender binary is, in Kate Forbes perspective, less legitimate. She claims this is “a matter of conscience”. Many people believe that the right to equal marriage is a fundamental human right.
Kathryn Pierce and her wife, Stef Lauer, who got married in Scotland in 2019 and now live in the Cairngorms said, “Following Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation, it feels like Scotland is at risk of very suddenly and starkly losing its way on equality, inclusion, and celebration of difference. After such a forward-thinking government, views like those of Kate Forbes are not only alarming and highly dangerous to our already marginalised and victimised community, they seem entirely anachronistic and deeply incompatible with the views and experiences of a liberal and progressive Scotland.”
It is also a disingenuous representation of religion. MSP Humza Yousaf, who is a practising Muslim and candidate for the first minister position, has stated plainly on The Andrew Marr Show:
“I’m a supporter of equal marriage. Let me get to the crux of the issue that you’re asking me. I’m a Muslim. I’m somebody who’s proud of my faith. I’ll be fasting during Ramadan in a few weeks’ time. But what I don’t do is, I don’t use my faith as a basis of legislation. What I do as a representative, as a leader, as a Member of the Scottish Parliament is my job is to bring forward policy and pursue it in the best interest of the country.”
Here we can see the flaw in Forbes’ stance highlighted. Yousef understands that he was elected to represent the views of the electorate, whereas Fobes seems to believe that she was elected as someone whose views themselves are representative. This is troubling.
Many of Forbes’ contemporaries, who backed her for the position of first minister, have now withdrawn their support based on her statements. Government ministers who previously supported her but no longer do include Richard Lochhead, Tom Arthur and Clare Haughey.
Forbes has stated that she would not have backed the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill had she been present for the vote (she was on maternity leave). She has also stated that she would be “loath to challenge” the decision of the UK government to use a Section 35 order to block the GRR Bill. She claims that the Scottish public is “focused on other things”.
The leg on which Forbes is trying to stand her recent statements is that her personal opinions on certain issues would not stop her from following a democratically elected path determined by the Scottish Parliament. She has explicitly stated that even though she herself does not support equal marriage, she would not attempt to overturn laws that have already been passed on this issue.
It is difficult to reconcile this supposed commitment to upholding democracy that Forbes is making on one hand while with the other, she is waving away the highly supported GRR Bill (which passed with a majority of 86 for to 39 against). This already belies her claim to be able to keep her personal conscience out of her politics.
She again brings her faith into the conversation. Forbes is a member of the Free Church, an evangelical offshoot of Christianity and Scotland’s second largest denomination. Their website states that, “the Bible is God’s word and should be central to everything we do”
This means that they oppose, among other things, trans rights, equal marriage, abortion, and sex outside of marriage. However, it does not seem to prevent them from wearing blended fabrics (Leviticus 19:19) or eating bacon (Leviticus 11:8).
The legal right to get an abortion has been part of the law in Scotland since the Abortion Act of 1967. This bodily autonomy is a critical right and abortion is a crucial part of our healthcare system, but as we have seen in America, it is still highly debated.
More recently, groups and individuals have been gathering outside clinics that provide abortion care in order to attempt to dissuade clinic patients from going forward with termination. Patients have stated that this is harassing and alarming, and it also affects clinic staff.
MSP Gillian Mackay has put forward a member’s bill to implement safety zones around clinics that would serve to protect vulnerable people from harassment. The University of Stirling Students’ Union have voted in favour of supporting this bill as high priority and passed a motion to take this forward to the NUS.
“The views and comments of Kate Forbes on numerous issues are actively at odds with my values which I bring into my role as Vice President Communities as well as policies relating to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion held by the Union,” said Jess Reid, the VP Communities and person who put forward the motion to ensure the Students Union put this forward to the NUS.
“What concerns me most is her blatant transphobia which actively harms Scotland’s efforts to push through GRA reform, and her comments regarding safe access to abortions. Every person deserves safe access to essential abortion services, having Forbes involved in these discussions would, in my opinion, hinder any progress made and whatever she means by ‘targeted’ is not the approach I believe should be adopted.”
Forbes has stated that she would seek to work with Mackay to ensure the bill “does tackle harassment, but is targeted.” Forbes did not specify what or who should be targeted by the bill, or in what cases harassment should not aim to be tackled, despite the implication of her statement being that, on some occasions, it is not necessary to protect people accessing this service.
These perspectives do not represent the majority of the SNP membership, even though the party is made of a highly disparate group of people primarily united over a single issue.
Connor Cloughley, an SNP member said, “Thankfully, I don’t think Kate Forbes’ views in her recent statements are representative of the party at all.
Most members joined because of the party’s progressive vision for an independent Scotland. As a party that champions equality, I don’t think it would be right for us to be led by someone who holds such antiquated world views.”
Another SNP member who wished to remain anonymous said, “I don’t think personal religious beliefs should have any place in Politics. Kate Forbes does not get my nomination. I’m a member of the SNP and an office bearer. Her comments do not represent me, or my values. Equal marriage needs to be respected, as does the GRR reforms. I welcome the legal challenge to Westminster’s block to our laws. Especially just after the Supreme Court justice said Scotland is not Democratically repressed.”
Despite everything, Kate Forbes maintains that she will press forward with her leadership campaign and will not be withdrawing. It has been suggested by pundits that other MSPs withdrawing their support is a death knell, but Forbes continues to swim against the tide of progress.
Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Scottish Government