Kate Forbes loses SNP backers over gay marriage stanceon February 21, 2023 at 12:15 pm

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The SNP leadership hopeful defends her comments as five of her former backers abandon her campaign.

Kate ForbesImage source, PA Media

SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes has denied her campaign has been derailed by comments on gay marriage.

Key backers have announced they can no longer support the finance secretary, who said she would have voted against legislation on same-sex unions.

She is one of three confirmed candidates in the contest, alongside Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan.

Ms Forbes said she would not seek to overturn gay marriage laws if she succeeded Nicola Sturgeon.

But Scottish government ministers Richard Lochhead, Tom Arthur and Clare Haughey have withdrawn their support for her, as has health committee convener Gillian Martin.

The finance secretary, who was first elected to Holyrood in 2016 and has been on maternity leave, said she would have voted against gay marriage in Scotland when it was made legal in 2014 because it clashed with her views as a member of the Free Church of Scotland that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Speaking to BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland, the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP denied her campaign had been irreparably damaged by the fallout.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “We have a large party membership, most of whom are not on Twitter, and I understand that people have very strong views on these matters.

“I think the public are longing for politicians to answer straight questions with straight answers and that’s certainly what I tried to do in the media yesterday. That doesn’t necessarily allow for much nuance.”

‘Tolerant society’

Ms Forbes insisted that she would not attempt to row back on the gay marriage legislation if she became first minister.

She said: “My position on these matters is 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 that others can be afforded the rights of people of faith to practice fairly mainstream teaching. And that is the nuance that we need to capture on equal marriage.

“Equal marriages is a legal right, and as a servant of democracy, rather than a dictator, I absolutely respect and defend that democratic right.”

Ms Forbes later told Times Radio that she “she regrets enormously the pain or hurt that has been caused” by her comments on gay marriage, adding that she had not intended to do so and that “I would seek forgiveness if that is how it’s come across.”

Humza Yousaf

Image source, PA Media

Ms Forbes made the initial comments about gay marriage on Monday, just hours after launching her campaign.

Mr Lochhead, the Scottish government minister for just transition, employment and fair work, said he could no longer back the finance secretary as a result.

He tweeted that he felt the SNP “can’t have a party leader who’d vote against same sex marriage”.

Minister for children and young people, Ms Haughey, who had previously nominated Ms Forbes for leader, posted: “I absolutely and completely support equal marriage. I am unequivocal on this issue. I cannot continue to support Kate’s leadership campaign.”

Public finance minister Mr Arthur also pulled his support, hailing equal marriage as one of Holyrood’s “greatest achievements”.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

And after revealing she was “uncomfortable” with the comments on gay marriage, health committee convener Ms Martin tweeted: “We must be full throated in our support of equal marriage. No if or buts.

“I won’t be supporting Kate’s campaign on that basis. I wish her well – she’s extremely talented. But I have red lines. And this is one.”

Among the other MSPs to have backed Ms Forbes are Jim Fairlie, Michelle Thomson and Business Minister Ivan McKee.

Leadership rival Mr Yousaf was absent for the final vote on equal marriage in 2014 but supported it at earlier stages.

Asked for his response to Ms Forbes, the health secretary told GMS: “It’s for her to defend her views, I’ve made my views very clear. I think my track record on equality issues speaks loud and clear.

“I’m a minority in this country, I have been my entire life and my rights don’t exist in some kind of vacuum.

“My rights are interdependent on other people’s rights and therefore I believe very firmly, in fact with every fibre in my being, that your equality is my equality.

“Therefore I’ll always fight for the equal rights of others regardless of who they are.”

Mr Yousaf said he would still consider appointing Ms Forbes to his cabinet if elected first minister, despite concerns it could threaten the SNP’s power-sharing agreement with the Greens.

He said: “Kate is extraordinarily talented, she’s incredibly intelligent, and she has been a more than capable performer in government and within the Scottish Parliament, so I wouldn’t hesitate to consider Kate for a job in government and cabinet if I was elected but that’s very presumptuous.”

Asked if he would appoint Ms Forbes at the expense of the agreement with the Greens, he said: “The Green deal for me is incredibly important but so is Kate’s potential contribution.”

SNP leadership candidates have until Friday to secure 100 nominations from at least 20 local branches to secure their place on the ballot. The winner is due to be announced on 27 March.

Presentational grey line
Analysis box by Philip Sim, political correspondent, Scotland

Kate Forbes has always been completely open about her faith, so it is not a surprise that she has spoken about it on day one of her campaign.

But it has not played out well for her in the immediacy, with a series of dis-endorsements from fellow ministers over the issue of gay marriage.

It might be worth questioning why her backers didn’t see this coming when Ms Forbes has been open about her religious views in the past.

It is also notable that it was never seen as a bar to her becoming finance secretary, or indeed for others to hold high office in SNP governments – like Roseanna Cunningham or Fergus Ewing, who both voted against equal marriage legislation.

Ms Forbes says most people aren’t on Twitter, where the “storm” is playing out. She is hoping that the SNP’s membership will chew this matter over in a different way to the frantic pace of online discourse.

There are still five weeks to run in the contest, so there is plenty of time to turn things around – but there is already talk of her campaign being on the rocks.

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