OPINION - Kate Forbes deserves credit for candour – but not much else

 (Ben Turner)
(Ben Turner)

I couldn’t tell you who will win the SNP leadership election, but I feel confident in stating that person will be in favour of Scottish independence. That is because the SNP is a pro-independence party. Anything else would be deeply weird.

But the SNP also considers itself to be a centre-left, social democratic party. All other things being equal, you would expect such a party to favour investment in public services over tax cuts, and adopt socially liberal positions on issues such as marriage.

This is where finance minister and SNP leadership candidate (for the moment), Kate Forbes, has run into trouble. Forbes is a member of the evangelical Free Church of Scotland, which holds strict conservative views on abortion and gay rights.

In the last 24 hours, Forbes, considered to be the frontrunner, has confirmed she would have voted against gay marriage and that having children outside of marriage “would be wrong according to my faith“. Forbes has defended her positions, even going as far as to suggest that it would be “dangerous” if people of faith were effectively barred from high office.

This seems to be fairly weak ground. Her main opponent for the leadership, Humza Yousaf, is himself a practicing Muslim. As is the Mayor of London. The prime minister is a Hindu. There is no religious bar to high office in the UK. Indeed, an atheist running to be leader of a centre-left party who was opposed to same-sex marriage would face similar problems. There is instead a bar for leadership candidates whose views are at odds with their party membership and elected representatives.

In fairness to Forbes, she believes this stuff and has been upfront about it, allowing SNP members to consider how that should impact their vote. Unlike Tim Farron, who also struggled to marry his religious views with his party’s liberalism, Forbes is saying all this *before* becoming leader, not after. As unpalatable as her views may be to many, you cannot fault her candour.

This episode makes for a useful contrast with the falsehood that all SNP leadership candidates must tell to get a hearing – that independence will deliver an economic benefit to Scotland. In his leadership video, Yousaf said that independence is needed “now more than ever before, particularly after a decade of austerity.”

The reality (see here, here and here) is that independence would, like Brexit, make Scotland poorer. Higher borrowing costs, trade friction, loss of subsidies, pensions, currency, hard borders etc. To be clear, I take no issue with arguments from those that recognise the fiscal and financial hit from independence but want to do it anyway. Politics is about more than bean counting. But honesty should matter.

Forbes’ frankness on gay marriage has cost her support from colleagues (why they backed her in the first place if they worried about her views is another matter) and may well sink her campaign. But it makes for a striking juxtaposition with what SNP politicians have to say about the party’s central policy.

Elsewhere in the paper, a cracking exclusive from Rachael Burford, who reports that rail minister Huw Merriman’s laptop – containing confidential information about negotiations on the train strikes – was stolen from a central London pub in the same week as massive industrial action took place.

In the comment pages, Business Editor Jonathan Prynn warns that the government’s good fortune on tax receipts may well turn out to be more for Keir Starmer’s benefit than Rishi Sunak’s.

Nimco Ali says she loves a good dress but despairs at how the media waits to dissect every part of a woman’s body on the red carpet. While Amy Francombe calls the Nicola Peltz/Brooklyn Beckham £3m wedding meltdown the nepo-baby train crash from heaven.

And finally, a medieval law could hinder plans to move Smithfield Market. It has a lot to do with how far you could drive a sheep in one day in 1247.

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