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Why Kate Forbes won’t be the next SNP leader

Kate Forbes: a very divisive unity candidate. Credit: Getty

April 30, 2024 - 7:00am

Since Kate Forbes narrowly lost the SNP leadership to Humza Yousaf last year – 48% to 52%, on second preferences — Scottish Nationalists have been left pondering what might have been.

After all, Forbes correctly predicted Yousaf was not up to the job of being first minister, often in no uncertain terms. In one particularly memorable moment during a TV debate between the contenders, she savaged the ministerial record of her colleague in government, telling Yousaf that when “you were a transport minister … the trains were never on time, when you were justice secretary, the police were stretched to breaking point, and now [you are] health minister we have got record high waiting times”.

Similarly, she also correctly predicted that “more of the same [from the SNP was] not what Scotland needs”. This was a criticism of a perceived failure of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon to deliver on key issues, such as economic growth, raising education standards and reducing hospital waiting times. But it was also an attempt to differentiate herself from Yousaf, who revelled in being dubbed “continuity Sturgeon”. “We actually do need to change,” Forbes told reporters after another fiery TV debate.

The calamitous year and a bit of Yousaf’s brief reign has proved Forbes right on both counts. Of course, Yousaf has not been helped by the ongoing police investigation into the SNP’s finances, which would have seriously undermined the credibility of whoever took over from Sturgeon as leader, and in this respect Forbes was fortunate in her narrow defeat.

But she is nevertheless still correct that the SNP urgently needs not only a competent leader, but also a new vision after 17 years in power in Scotland. And, as a former cabinet minister with a high reputation in the Scottish government — as well as an instinctive commitment to meritocracy, economic growth and raising living standards — there is a strong case to be made that Forbes offers just that.

The question now is whether she can be persuaded to give SNP members the chance to right the mistake they made 13 months ago. At the time of writing, she is still considering her options amid reports that John Swinney, a former SNP leader and veteran cabinet minister, may also enter the race to succeed Yousaf.

But whatever Forbes’s eventual decision, there is good reason to think that — just as she was fortunate to not win the leadership in 2023 — she may also be wise to avoid taking on the role until after devolved elections in 2026.

Firstly, the issue of her views on some social issues remains a stumbling block. An active member of the conservative Free Church of Scotland (her father was a missionary and she spent much of her early life in India), Forbes faced criticism during the 2023 leadership race after she declared that she would not have voted in favour of equal marriage had she been an MSP in 2014 when the legislation came before the Scottish Parliament. Further issues around her attitudes to abortion and having children out of wedlock also emerged.

Such views create opposition to Forbes from within the SNP but, perhaps more importantly, in other parties too. Pro-LGBTQ parties such as the Scottish Greens, on whom the SNP rely for support, would be unlikely to back a Forbes premiership and — having already flexed their muscles by bringing down Yousaf — would have few qualms doing the same to her. Devolved elections in 2026 may significantly alter the arithmetic of the Scottish Parliament and offer Forbes more pliant partners if the SNP can stay in power.

Secondly, even the SNP’s most devoted supporters acknowledge the party is facing a difficult general election in Scotland later this year. Opinion polls consistently suggest the Nationalists could lose dozens of seats to a resurgent Scottish Labour Party. It would be prudent for Forbes to let another leader take the blame for this calamity and then, by 2026, perhaps SNP members will be pining for her even more.


Andrew Liddle is a political commentator and historian based in Edinburgh.

ABTLiddle

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
21 days ago

When societies are in a downward spiral, every political change, rather than improving things, does the opposite. So Sturgeon was worse than Salmond, Yousaf was worse than Sturgeon, John Swinney or Jenny Gilruth will be worse than Yousaf. The SNP are dragging Scotland down with them, and such is the damage they have done to education and civil society Scotland’s capacity ever to recover has been eroded. The net political result of the Cass Report – rather to remove the Greens from power – has been to allow them pick and choose the SNP leader and First Minister. And the only alternative to the SNP and Greens – Labour and the Lib Dems – are very similar and just as bad.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
21 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Didn’t the Labour leader, another Pakistani Muslim make a ‘White Supremacy ‘ speech which was almost a carbon copy of Useless’s ?

Just like the trans brigade; a tiny minority are allowed through DEI nonsense to make a totally disproportionate impact on everyone else.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
21 days ago

Agree with this article, but the idea of continuity continuity Sweeney makes me sick.
Does anyone remember when he was school “minister” during COVID, or the way he helped obfuscate during the Salmond trial? Is it all forgotten now?

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
21 days ago

It’s almost like living under Communism; see Milan Kundera’s ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting ‘.

Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
21 days ago

Scotland isn’t a real country, so it doesn’t have to worry about stuff like economic growth or decent education. Forbes, Cambridge educated and intelligent, would be wasted running that loony bin.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
21 days ago
Reply to  Aidan Twomey

The fact that she has been through the University mill and still espouses unfashionable religious positions certainly suggests a certain independence of mind or that early parental ideology has proved a more powerful influence than the prevailing leftist propaganda.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
20 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I’m always suspicious of anyone who’s taken an ideological upbringing too much on board; independence of mind isn’t something that can be indoctrinated.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
20 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

And i expect those down-ticking to all be looking in the mirror at themselves before doing the kneejerk.

Arthur G
Arthur G
20 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

You’re only suspicious if that upbringing is Christian. If they’ve taken an ideological secular-atheist upbringing to heart (like 90% of the Oxbridge class) you’re 100% onboard.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
19 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

I mean I was raised in a religious (centre right English) household. I grew to become more religious and conservative than my parents or indeed grandparents (with the possible exception of my grandfather, but he wasn’t religious). Frankly religion is one of those things that if you live in England the scary “indoctrination” doesn’t really happen. You get told it society tells you to reject it you do, you act in a secular way.

Being religious in this day and age means independence of mind. Most people don’t really understand or consider ideologies or religion or philosophy in any great detail… they look at x ideology and say that’s more or less what I think or that sound good. Particularly leftist ideology is pernicious because it’s everywhere and it silences its opponents. So people either think that or hide their other views. The outcome is the same, a public square dominated by the left.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
21 days ago

Surely Forbes can’t win; she’s relatively honest, she speaks the truth and she’s got principles and convictions. None of these would appear to be requisites and could even be ‘problematic ‘ for modern politicians.

Graham Bennett
Graham Bennett
21 days ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

There’s a conundrum here: we, the voters, all keep saying we want the qualities in our politicians you highlight; yet you say this makes Forbes unelectable. So, either only SNP members prefer charlatans, or the general voting public are, in the end, totally gormless and incapable of telling the difference between a self-serving charlatan and a decent, honest person. Which is it? The public either knows what it wants, or it doesn’t. Or, are you saying that the party hierarchies simply won’t allow decent people to stand, and therefore stimy them?

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
21 days ago
Reply to  Graham Bennett

It’s probably a bit of both; the public is fickle and can’t even be bothered to vote a lot of the time and is easily distracted and convinced (not without cause) that MPs are untrustworthy in any case; meanwhile, the parties are just desperately shopping around for the latest identifit composite with the broadest ‘appeal’ (see Labour’s shameless current ‘flagshagging’).

So we are trapped in a downward spiral of low expectations and even lower results.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
20 days ago

An article in the Telegraph of today that I appear unable to link indicates Kate Forbes is aware of the damage done to Scotland’s prospects as an independent country by the net zero attack on the oil industry of Scotland. A good reason she should be the Nats PM but another reason she is likely to be rejected.

Ironically the article points out that her views are much more in line with popular sentiment than the narrow ideological sentiment reflected in political circles.

Peter Woodifield
Peter Woodifield
20 days ago

People should remember that Alex Salmond ran a perfectly competent minority government gaining support from Unionist parties on an issue by issue basis between 2007-2011. I suspect Forbes would find a reasonably positive response from them if she were elected because she is far closer to their way of thinking than she is to the Greens on pretty well every issue you care to mention – apart obviously from independence. As that’s on the back burner for the time being, it’s not really an issue. And it would leave the Greens isolated. If she was elected I suspect the Unionist parties would abstain in the vote to confirm her as FM.
Perhaps the key question is whether she wants the poisoned chalice at all. The other great unknown is what sort of people have been leaving the SNP in droves. But given she came within a hairsbreadth of winning a year ago despite all the mud thrown at her suggests to me she would have a good chance of winning if she decides to run

RD STevens
RD STevens
20 days ago

Kate Forbes is clearly competent, intelligent and with a strong moral compass. She is telegenic and unfailingly comes across as, frankly, a nice person. She has stated her intent, if elected leader, to work constructively with Westminster and end the grievance mongering. She is absolutely the right person to steer the SNP out of the reefs and back on course to separation. Which is precisely why we should never let it happen. Thank God for John Swinney

Iain Anderson
Iain Anderson
20 days ago
Reply to  RD STevens

I would agree with the sentiments about her qualities , although I think rather than leader, Kate should be offered a senior role back in the cabinet . I speak as someone who actually give her a first preference vote last year and think she is a strong asset to team SNP.

John Howes
John Howes
20 days ago

Coalitions seldom do well. “Netanyahu’s bloc, which won 64 of the 120 Knesset seats in the November 1 election, consists of his Likud party, two ultra-Orthodox parties, and three far-right religious factions.” An unholy Alliance if ever there was! In order to keep this motley crew together he has allowed settlements of a nature provocative and violent in their occupancy.he has a problem with his ‘far right religious factions who distinctly refuse to fight for Israel unlike the many young women from all over the Globe who have returned to defend their country. The Tory Lib Dem coalition was another example of marriages made in hell. The Lib Dems in particular throwing their toys out of the pram unless they got what they demanded. A plague on all their houses.

David McKee
David McKee
20 days ago

It’s one of the great ironies of our time. Forbes, by all accounts, is an able politician. Yet people fear she would allow the fanaticism of her religious beliefs to push the Scots around.

And yet it’s the secular-based fanaticism of the Greens, with their obsession with trans rights and climate change, who are pushing the SNP into making one disastrous decision after another.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
19 days ago

She holds views that Christians have had for 2000 years and Jews 3000 years longer, the repudiation of which has brought us such confusions as what is a woman, multiplying gender claims in place of the biological two, assaults on Western Civilization in favour of a chaotic jumble of idiocies enforced by group thinking, the eager embrace of deviancy, the sweeping away of taboos (bestiality waits in the wings to be received as just another lifestyle choice), sexual grooming of children, an open door to the barbaric primitivism of Islam, tech geniuses who want to live forever with the help of AI, and don’t forget the deep-seated depression and widespread anxiety and hopelessness everywhere you look. One could go on and on. Give me that old-time religion, as the gospel song goes — it’s good enough for me. You know where you stand and what to expect if you have led a good life according to the Scriptures.