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Kate Forbes: Praised for handling of budget but other views could divide party

Kate Forbes was first tipped as a potential candidate to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister after the way she calmly delivered the budget just hours after she took over from the finance secretary in 2020.

Following the sudden resignation of Derek Mackay, the 32-year-old was drafted in to deliver the SNP budget on February 6 2020.

Her handling of the brief earned her plaudits from across the political sphere and she was officially given the role under two weeks later.

Ms Forbes was serving under Mr Mackay as minister for public finance at the time.

Nicola Sturgeon launches Scotland’s Tech Scalers
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Kate Forbes (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Now many polls have put her as the favourite for the top job.

– Start in politics

Born in Dingwall in the Scottish Highlands, Ms Forbes spent much of her early years going between a Gaelic school in Scotland and studying in India, after relocating with her family.

She studied history at Selwyn College, at Cambridge University, before going on to earn a MSc in diaspora and migration history in 2013.

She got her start in politics by working for Dave Thompson, her predecessor in the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch constituency, and was also employed as an accountant.

– Entering Holyrood

Ms Forbes was elected in the 2016 Holyrood election, almost doubling the votes Mr Thompson had received in the previous election from 4,995 to 9,045.

Her campaign was focused on addressing the gender pay gap in employment across the Highlands.

She sat on the SNP backbenches until 2018, convening the Parliament’s cross-party group on Gaelic and leading key debates on the importance of the language.

In June 2018, she became the minister for public finance during a reshuffle by Nicola Sturgeon.

– Ministerial jobs

In 2020, Ms Forbes became the first woman to deliver a budget in either Holyrood and Westminster.

Her handling of the Finance Minister duties earned high praise from across politics, with her name already floated as a potential successor to the First Minister.

In the 2021 elections, her majority grew further in her constituency, winning 15,681 votes – 7,000 more than in 2016.

She delivered the Government’s budget for a second time in December 2021.

– Maternity leave, religion and bid for top job

Ms Forbes became the first cabinet secretary in the Scottish Government to take maternity leave. Deputy First Minister John Swinney stepped in to replace her in July.

However, she is predicted to return to work earlier than expected after announcing her candidacy to replace Ms Sturgeon as First Minister.

She was one of 15 politicians to sign a public letter urging the Scottish Government to delay its controversial gender reforms.

And in January 2022, prior to her maternity leave, she said her position was unchanged, expressing fears the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Act could be a “bad law”.

In Holyrood, members of the Cabinet are expected to vote alongside Scottish Government policy but Ms Forbes refused to say whether she would back the legislation.

When it came to the vote in December 2022, her loyalty to party or conscience could not be tested as Ms Forbes was away on maternity leave and could not vote.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes delivers the Scottish Budget to the Scottish Parliament
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes delivers the Scottish Budget to the Scottish Parliament

Questions have been raised on how Ms Forbes’ beliefs, if she wins the leadership, would impact on the policies of her party.

Her religious faith has been a significant talking point. Ms Forbes is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, with concerns raised over the church’s strict views on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Concerns have also been raised that her appointment could jeopardise the Bute House agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens.

However, she has previously brushed off questions about whether her faith will conflict with her party’s policies, including on the issue of buffer zones around abortion clinics.

She said: “I make my own decisions on the basis of what decision is right and wrong, according to my faith, not according to the diktat of any church.”