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Sanctimony, cant and evasions in the fight to be First Minister


THE battle to be Scotland’s next First Minister has been unexpectedly feisty and distinctly personal so far, with the chief battleground being social issues and articles of faith. Finance Minister Kate Forbes has had a particularly hard time with her views on gay marriage, trans issues, abortion and having children outside of wedlock coming in for particular scrutiny. 

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has attacked Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, on her comments that she would not have voted for the ‘equal marriage’ Bill in 2014 had she been an MSP at the time. Yousaf, a Muslim, deflected the accusation that his own faith prohibits gay marriage by arguing that he would not allow his religious beliefs to influence his political actions.

Yousaf seems to be forgetting something rather important: he didn’t vote for the equal marriage Bill. The then justice secretary had an ‘urgent’ meeting with the Pakistani Consul General on the day of the vote to discuss the imminent execution of a prisoner. Rather convenient, some might say, especially as the ‘urgent’ meeting was arranged a full 19 days in advance and looks suspiciously to have been timed to coincide with the all-important vote.

Further, according to blogger and independence activist Craig Murray, consuls are ‘low status’ diplomats who deal predominantly with visa applications. As Murray puts it: ‘You might as well have a conversation with a Pakistani bus driver.’ Murray ought to know: he was the UK’s ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004. To exemplify the kind of business such officials are accustomed to dealing with, Murray posts a photo of Glasgow’s consul general for Pakistan in a meeting with a man who hunts goats.

Forbes has won plaudits from some for at least being honest about her beliefs. Her views on ‘equal marriage’ are consistent with her faith and she has stated clearly that biological males may identify as women but are men and have no place in women’s prisons, a position that feels like a draught of cool spring water amidst the tortured obfuscation of so many politicians in recent weeks.

But she is not immune to using the old ‘urgent business elsewhere’ excuse when it suits her. She was absent for the recent Gender Recognition Reform Bill (GRRB) votes in the Scottish parliament on maternity leave. Had she voted with her conscience and in line with her faith, she would have needed to resign, thus forfeiting her ministerial salary and all the perks that go with her office. 

Maternity leave would appear to be a stronger justification than meetings with obscure officials on matters unrelated to Scotland, but it should be remembered that remote voting is allowed in the Scottish parliament, and unless Forbes was in the throes of childbirth at the very moment votes were being cast (she wasn’t), she could have participated. The vote on an amendment which would have stopped trans men on trial for sex offences from being assigned to a woman’s prison was only narrowly defeated. Forbes’s remote vote might have emboldened a few waverers and made a difference.

Furthermore, is Forbes really being persecuted for her Christian beliefs or for being forced into expressing them? Her membership of the Free Church hasn’t recently been discovered, but until pressed to do so in recent interviews Forbes has said nary a word on the controversial moral issues that are apparently close to her heart. This is in contrast to her fellow Christian and SNP colleague John Mason, who has spoken up in the Scottish parliament to express his pro-life views at some cost to his career. Her explanation that she would ‘defend to the hilt a person’s legal right to equal marriage’ (while personally disagreeing with it on a profound level) is essentially meaningless.

So far, only the relatively obscure Ash Regan, who did resign from her ministerial post to vote against the GRRB, is emerging from this increasingly fractious contest with integrity. But even here, you would need to question why someone would accept ministerial rank in the knowledge that the self-ID issue and the GRRB was coming along as part of the pact that brought the Greens into government; it was hardly a secret. And her response when asked her position on same-sex marriage, ‘love is love’, is sadly typical of the jejune virtue-signalling that has come to characterise the Scottish parliament and nearly all who serve there. 

Meanwhile, amidst all the sanctimony, cant and evasions, the real issues that beset Scotland, a tanking economy, an NHS on its knees, a once proud but now disintegrating education system and appalling figures for drugs deaths, are not being debated. None of the candidates has acknowledged a scintilla of responsibility for the country’s dire straits after 16 years of SNP misrule. 

I would say the Scottish people deserve better, but since they elected this lot in the first place and then re-elected them despite their manifold failures, I’m not sure, very sadly, that I completely believe that.

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