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‘Have we become so illiberal that we cannot have these discussions?’ SNP leadership front runner Kate Forbes defends her Christian views amid furious row over her hardline opposition to sex outside wedlock, gay marriage and trans rights
- SNP’s Kate Forbes said she would have voted against gay marriage in 2014
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Kate Forbes suggested she was the victim of ‘illiberal’ attacks on her religious views today as her campaign to become Scotland’s First Minister teetered on the brink of disaster over her hardline social stance.
The SNP is in meltdown tonight after the leadership front runner defiantly paraded her devout Christian views on topics from gay marriage to gender identity.
The Scottish Finance Secretary, 32, insisted sex before marriage and having children out of wedlock is ‘wrong’ in an extraordinary 24 hours of carnage that appears to have left her bid to succeed Nicola Sturgeon dead in the water.
It came after she had earlier confirmed that she opposed same-sex marriage in comments that infuriated LGBT Scots.
She insisted that she had no intention of ‘imposing’ her views on anyone else and it was ‘illiberal’ to treat people with ‘fairly mainstream’ religious views as ‘beyond the pale’.
But allies are admitting Ms Forbes has ‘f***ed it up’, with SNP activists regarded as among the most socially liberal.
Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, could even face an internal SNP disciplinary probe after telling ITV Border: ‘I believe that a trans woman is a biological male who identifies as a woman.’
Party rules suggest that referring to trans women as ‘biological males’ can be classed as transphobic.
SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes (pictured today) said she would have voted against gay marriage in Scotland at the time it was made legal almost a decade ago
The meltdown leaves Health Secretary Humza Yousaf as the favourite to take over from Ms Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon (pictured in a visit to Midlothian yesterday) dropped the bombshell that she is quitting last week, after a torrid spell where the SNP slid into chaos over its abortive bid to loosen gender identity rules and dwindling support for independence
However, the mother-of-one – who cut her maternity leave short to enter the contest – shrugged off U-turns from a slew of previously supportive MSPs.
The MSP seemed to acknowledge this afternoon that her ambitions could be thwarted, saying her campaign continues ‘at the moment’.
Amid a slew of attacks as the day went on SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who disagrees with Ms Forbes’s religious views, urged senior figures to ‘call off the dogs’, saying the ‘feeding frenzy is unseemly and bad for the party’.
The crumbling leadership bid leaves Health Secretary Humza Yousaf as the favourite to take over from Ms Sturgeon – but has also highlighted the massive rift at the heart of the party.
Ms Forbes already looked in trouble after admitting overnight that she would have voted against gay marriage.
And this afternoon she told Sky News that having children outside of wedlock is ‘something that I would seek to avoid’.
‘In terms of my faith, my faith would say that children – it says sex is for marriage. That’s the approach that I would practise,’ she said.
Ms Forbes insisted it was not an issue she was ‘fussed’ about, suggesting she would not ‘impose my views on other people’ and she ‘accepts’ family and friends who have made those ‘choices’.
But asked if having children outside marriage is wrong, she replied: ‘For me it would be wrong according to my faith.’
Ms Forbes said: ‘In a liberal society you can coexist and have these debates and discussions,’ she said. ‘I think it has brought to light a fascinating question at the heart of Scottish political discourse, which is, what does liberalism mean?
‘Have we become so illiberal that we cannot have these discussions, or are some people beyond the pale. Because if some people are beyond the pale then these are dark and dangerous days for Scotland.
‘I think this campaign will draw that out.’
The SNP politician first faced a backlash after insisting that she views marriage as between a man and a woman.
She said she would have voted against same-sex marriage if she had been an MSP at the time, but stressed she would defend people’s rights under the law as it stands.
Speaking on Times Radio this morning, Ms Forbes tried to smooth over the fallout.
‘I regret enormously the pain or hurt that has been caused because that was neither my intention, and I would seek forgiveness if that is how it’s come across,’ she said.
Ms Forbes added that she defends the rights of LGBT+ people to live ‘free of harassment, fear and prejudice’.
She compared her stance to that of Angela Merkel, who agreed to a vote on the issue, opposed the change, but then implemented the will of the German Parliament.
Read more: How outgoing leader’s ruthless ambition brought Scotland to the brink of independence before a series of scandals
‘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,’ she said.
‘And in the same way I hope that others can be afforded the rights of people of faith to practise fairly mainstream teaching. And that is the nuance that we need to capture on equal marriage.’
Challenged that her campaign was all-but finished, Ms Forbes said: ‘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.’
Equal marriage was made legal in Scotland in 2014 with an overwhelming majority of 105 votes to 18, while Ms Forbes was not elected to Holyrood until the 2016 election.
Ms Forbes previously said she would not have voted for the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill in its current form.
As she was on maternity leave, she did not participate in the final vote before the new year, but has been clear on her opposition since 2019.
She was one of 15 SNP politicians who publicly called on her party to delay the controversial proposals which make it easier for transgender people to self-identify as their chosen gender.
She said: ‘My concerns about self-ID have been well documented and I would have continued to have those concerns about self-ID.
‘It’s very difficult to talk hypothetically when it comes to a Bill but I think I would have struggled to support that self-ID element of the Gender Recognition Act.’
However, if she had voted against it, she would have been required to leave her position as Finance Secretary.
In another controversial intervention, Ms Forbes said the convicted transgender rapist who was initially placed in a female jail ‘is a man’.
Ms Sturgeon previously dodged questions over whether Isla Bryson, formerly known as Adam Graham, is a woman after the 31-year-old was found guilty of two sex attacks.
But speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mrs Forbes said unequivocally that ‘no rapist can be a woman’ and that ‘Isla Bryson is a man’.
Mrs Forbes also accused her opponents of attacking her over her Christian beliefs ‘rather than competence, experience or vision’.
She said: ‘We need to be very careful that we are not saying in Scotland that you cannot hold public office, even the highest public office, if you are a member of a particular faith.
‘Or, you can hold public office, but you actually need to strip your faith out. That seems to me a very illiberal approach.
She added: ‘My approach is I’ve been open about faith, the influence of faith in my life.
‘But we appear to be able to have a Hindu in Number 10, is it beyond the pale to think we might have a Christian in Bute House?’
‘I would much rather engage in discussion with the UK Government about the amendments that need to be made than proceed with the challenge.’
Isla Bryson – formerly known as Andrew Graham – pictured outside court in Glasgow in January
Who is Humza Yousaf?
Humza Yousaf, 37, is the Scottish Government’s health secretary, who became Scotland’s first Muslim Cabinet minister in 2018, when he was appointed justice secretary.
He has been MSP for Glasgow Pollok since 2016, having previously been elected to the Scottish Parliament as an additional member for the Glasgow region in 2011 at the age of just 26.
Despite being tipped as a possible replacement for Ms Sturgeon as First Minister, Mr Yousaf’s chances could be harmed by the current health crisis in Scotland.
He has come under particular pressure over long waiting times for ambulances and emergency care.
Mr Yousaf has a daughter and a stepchild with his second wife Nadia El-Nakla.
Talking to The Scotsman, Ms Forbes, who has been on maternity leave and away from frontline politics since early summer last year, said she would not have supported equal marriage as a ‘matter of conscience’ if she had been a member of parliament at the time.
She cited the example of Angela Merkel as a leader who voted on the matter ‘with her conscience’.
She said: ‘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.
‘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.’
Ms Forbes also condemned the ‘illiberal discourse’ around her faith and how her religious views could impact her decisions as First Minister.
She is a member of the Free Church of Scotland and had previously said her faith did not impact her ability to serve as an MSP.
Mr Yousaf said he will ‘always fight for the equal rights of others’.
Asked what he thought of what Ms Forbes had to say on same sex marriage, Mr Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland’s 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.’
Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes swiped at the need to ‘widen’ the SNP’s appeal as she confirmed she is a candidate
Who is SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes?
Kate Forbes is a leading member of Ms Sturgeon’s administration who is being tipped as the favourite to replace her.
The fluent Gaelic speaker became the Scottish government’s finance secretary in February 2020, the first woman to hold the post.
Kate Forbes married Alasdair MacLennan – a widower chimney sweep 10 years her senior – in July 2021.
Her husband, known as Ali, had three daughters – Rachael, Rebekah and Zara – with his Indian first wife Priya. She died in 2014, aged just 38.
Ms Forbes, 32, went on maternity leave last July – the first ever serving Scottish Cabinet secretary to do so – and gave birth to her daughter Naomi in August.
The daughter of missionaries, Ms Forbes spent much of her childhood in India.
She is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, sometimes known as the ‘Wee Frees’, which is opposed to gay marriage and believes there are few circumstances in which abortion is justified.
Ms Sturgeon’s government was accused of rushing through its controversial gender identity reforms before Christmas, while Ms Forbes remained on maternity leave, in order to prevent a potential revolt by the 32-year-old.
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