Supporters Desert SNP Leadership Hopeful Kate Forbes Over Her Equal Marriage Stance

The defiant finance secretary insisted her campaign was “not over”.
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SNP leadership hopeful Kate Forbes has insisted her campaign is “not over” despite losing support over her opposition to equal marriage.

The finance secretary is struggling to maintain the confidence of her colleagues after she laid out her stance in a series of interviews.

Forbes, who is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, said she would have voted against gay marriage when it was made legal almost a decade ago.

Equal marriage was made legal in Scotland in 2014 with an overwhelming majority of 105 votes to 18. Forbes was not elected to the Scottish parliament until the 2016 election.

She said her opposition was a “matter of conscience” but that she would not look to reverse the decision if she succeeded Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister.

In an interview with the Scotsman, Forbes cited the example of Angela Merkel as a leader who voted on the matter “with her conscience”.

“I think for me, Angela Merkel is the example I would follow, I would have voted, as a matter of conscience, along the lines of mainstream teaching in most major religions that marriage is between a man and a woman,” she said.

“But I would have respected and defended the democratic choice that was made.

“It is a legal right now and I am a servant of democracy, I am not a dictator.”

Her views, while widely known, have led to a number of her SNP colleagues withdrawing their support for her leadership campaign.

Gillian Martin, the SNP MSP, for Aberdeenshire East, said she was “uncomfortable” with Forbes’s answers on gay marriage and that she “would not be supporting” her campaign “on that basis”.

Clare Haughey, the SNP MSP for Rutherglen, also said she “cannot continue” to support Forbes as did MSP Tom Arthur, who said equal marriage was “amongst our parliament’s greatest achievements”.

And Richard Lochhead said that while he had “welcomed” Forbes’s decision to stand in the race, “I agree we can’t have a party leader who’d vote against same-sex marriage”.

Asked on Good Morning Scotland whether her campaign was now over, Forbes replied: “Absolutely not. We have a large party membership, most of whom are not on Twitter.

“I understand 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’ve tried to do in the media yesterday. That doesn’t necessarily allow for much nuance.

“My position on these matters is that I will defend to the hilt everybody’s rights in a pluralistic and tolerant society, to live and to love free of harassment and fear.”

Forbes’s views have also received criticism from across the political spectrum, with former Tory leader William Hague telling Times Radio “you couldn’t get elected leader of the Conservative Party now, with the view that she has”.

Before her interviews, Forbes had initially been defended by some of her colleagues, including leadership rival Ash Regan, who said she was “appalled” at the “misogynistic attacks on Kate Forbes because of her faith”.

Joanna Cherry, who is supporting Regan, said she wished people people would stop “attacking” Forbes for “her religious faith”, adding: “She’s never shown any inclination to roll back rights as a matter of government policy. I don’t recall any fuss about Ian Blackford’s membership of the same church. It is rank misogyny.”

Carol Monaghan, the MP for Glasgow North West, asked: “How can we be a truly inclusive society when someone like Kate is told there are some positions that she cannot aspire to because she belongs to a minority faith community?”

The development appears to have boosted the chances of health secretary Humza Yousaf, who is also running to replace Sturgeon following her resignation.

Asked what he thought of what Forbes had to say on same-sex marriage, he told the Good Morning Scotland programme: “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.”

He previously told Andrew Marr on LBC that although was a Muslim and “proud of my faith”, “what I don’t do is, I don’t use my faith as a basis of legislation”.

Another divide that has opened up between the two leadership rivals is that of the Scottish government’s controversial Gender Reform Bill.

Forbes confirmed that she would not have voted for the Bill, which has been blocked by Westminster, in its current form.

Forbes did not participate in the final vote because she was on maternity leave.

Regan has also said she would scrap the bill after she resigned from her role as community safety minister to vote against the legislation.

Yousaf has previously promised to stand by the Bill and said he would challenge the Section 35 order from the UK government which seeks to block the legislation.

Speaking on the BBC, he described it as “an attempt by the UK government to undermine the democratic will of the Scottish parliament” and suggested Westminster was trying to “stoke a culture war”.


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