Kate Forbes: the public is fed up with censorship
The SNP politician spoke out today about intolerance of differing views
“The public is fed up with being scared of saying what is widely accepted as fact,” Kate Forbes, the runner-up in the recent SNP leadership election, said today. Forbes was speaking as part of an online event for the think tank Reform Scotland, titled “No-platforming versus Freedom of Speech”. The panel also featured the SNP MP Joanna Cherry, whose gender-critical views resulted in an Edinburgh Fringe venue de-platforming her at the end of April.
On launching her campaign in February, Forbes was quickly targeted for her attitudes, inspired by her faith, towards same-sex marriage and gender self-identification. Speaking today, the former finance secretary claimed, “I should be subject to scrutiny, but you can’t have scrutiny if you use different tactics to shut down somebody.” She went on, “It is not about disputing someone’s views: it’s about boycotts and sacking people from jobs.”
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
SNP members attempted in February to have Forbes investigated for “transphobia”, while several media outlets campaigned for her to be removed from the leadership ballot. However, while a number of backers deserted Forbes when her views were made public, she also received significant support, and finished with 48% of the final vote in the run-off with eventual winner Humza Yousaf.
“I was amazed and heartened by the backlash to the backlash. I received support from people who disagree with me on every single front,” Forbes said at the Reform Scotland event, continuing, “Defending scrutiny means defending freedom of speech [but] you can’t scrutinise that which will not be heard.” Discussing the censorious climate which extends beyond frontline politics and into the realms of education and the arts, she argued that “this culture of fear will eventually stymie art, comedy, and journalism.”
Cherry, who this week threatened legal action over her cancelled appearance at The Stand comedy club in August this year, concurred, saying that “universities, workplaces and political parties have all been captured”. The free speech problem is particularly pertinent when considering LGBT issues, the MP claimed, and stems “from organisations like Stonewall, which are taking the approach of ‘no debate’”.
When she was asked how she would have handled the crisis which engulfed the SNP after Nicola Sturgeon’s attempts to pass the controversial Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill, Forbes highlighted the need for unity across ideological lines. “There’s nearly always less that divides us than we think,” she said, “There was a way forward, but it had to start with one side listening to the other, and finding the points on which they agreed.”
Just as Forbes was subjected to abuse for her attitudes to LGBT rights, opponents of the GRR Bill were tarred as misogynist, transphobic and racist — and that was just from the then-First Minister. “The treatment of those who expressed concerns was absolutely unacceptable, so there was no hope of building a bridge that we could have built at the beginning,” Forbes said today. Intriguingly, she extended this principle to another issue which has dominated political discourse in Scotland in recent years: “I think, for example, that there is more that unites Yes and No voters than we think.”
‘She went on, “It is not about disputing someone’s views: it’s about boycotts and sacking people from jobs.”
SNP politicians do not get to complain about braggadocio and politics by the social media megaphone.
More generally though, this feels like Forbes is talking about the symptom and not the cause. In the past we (we: civil society) were not only capable of disagreement but understanding that it was for us as individuals in a functioning civil society to accommodate that disagreement ourselves and to police our own boundaries. Forbes, rightly, talks about captured institutions but I don’t think the capture is the point. In the past institutions were there to service civil society, now it is people in civil society who actively beckon in authority to take sides and take up causes tangential to the purpose of those institutions. Institutions have not so much barged into our lives as almost been expected to reputation-manage themselves for the entertainment of social media. Institutions no longer see themselves primarily as there to advance professional knowledge, further professional practice, disinterestedly present news, sponsor and support art, worship, organise sport amongst real peers and the like – they are there now to further ‘diversification’ and to not just exclude the ‘other’ but to make examples of them.
The symptom is the division and the arguments. The cause is the diminution of civil society. Sitting around tapping away at keyboards is not participation. ‘Cyber-nationalism’ is not participation. Of course there is more that unites than divides YES and NO in Scotland – that’s not a revelation. But without real civil society buttressed by strong institutions we are all vulnerable to loud grift. Censorship is one grisly by-product of our own failure to see the importance of civil society to all of us.
None of this of course is to say that Nationalism can not be a good vehicle for the promotion of civil society. There is an entirely reasonable argument that Scotland could go independent. Large parts of Eastern Europe did so in far harder conditions than Scotland will ever know. There could have been a true great, civil debate on the subject, both in Scotland and elsewhere. Instead we got rows amongst the twitter in crowd.
Forbes may well have spoken good words here, but it’s all just 15 years late.
This is really good comment, Sam. You’ve hit the nail on the head as far as how corrupted our institutions have become.
Well yes, but 15 years ago she would probably have still been at school and unlikely to have been v senior in politics : )
I like her. She seems a decent and principled woman.
Speaking as an outsider, I can see how independence is a major political project – and how trans nonsense is utterly peripheral.
How the SNP managed to shoot itself in the foot by elevating wokery over its supposed main political goal shows you how far the trans ideology has infected civil society and institutions.
It suggests an SNP that has lost touch with the reality of its own voters.
We should all be fed up with censorship of this type. What she has to say makes absolute sense. I must confess I didn’t really follow the SNP leadership contest very closely. Why didn’t she win the leadership race? The other guy seems to be cut from the same cloth as Sturgeon. Perhaps she didn’t express these views before the election for fear of being censored.
The people voting in the leadership race were SNP members. What do you think their views on censorship are?
Of course I do not know what the views of individual members of the SNP are and I suspect you don’t either. Tarring everyone with the same brush is a rather sweeping generalization. Isnt doing that just another form of censorship of the whole group? I suspect that only a very small minority of SNP members actually supported the latter day views of their leader on gender issues.
The fact they voted for Yousaf provides us – at least in hindsight – a window onto their values and beliefs.
I’d say it’s no less a generalisation than saying Tories want less immigration, or Labour voters want higher welfare spending.
I’m sure many are very tolerant, but the ones I’ve encountered have certainly not been.
He won because the machine designed an extremely short contest so as to get it out of the way before the arrests started.
Very likely. It is the only thing that makes sense.
Scotland’s politics is like a chronic TV comedy programme.. embarrasingly, and tor curlingly funny, sad and pathetic.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe