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NICKY MARR: Are we tolerant if we can’t tolerate Kate Forbes’ beliefs?

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky Marr (left) and Kate Forbes.
Nicky Marr (left) and Kate Forbes.

Less than 24 hours after launching her bid to become Scotland’s next First Minister, Highland MSP Kate Forbes has found herself at the centre of a personal and political stramash that has deeply polarised opinion – the very thing Nicola Sturgeon had hoped her resignation might put an end to.

Why? Because Forbes chose, openly and honestly, to share her views on same sex marriage and abortion. Based on her faith as a member of the Free Church of Scotland, Forbes’ views clash sharply with my own, and with those of the majority of Scots.

But should her personal views preclude her from taking the top job? And what does it say about the tolerance of our society, if we denounce and effectively ‘cancel’ her, because her views don’t align with ours?

As we are all now aware, Forbes is pro-Life and anti-same sex marriage. She has never shied away from or tried to hide her opinions. But for openly voicing them, she has, in less that 24 hours since she announced her intention to stand, gone from being publicly backed by many, to being publicly denounced.

At 11.01am on yesterday, Richard Lochhead went from Tweeting that he was “delighted the very talented @KateForbes has put her name forward”, to at 10.40pm declaring, “we can’t have a party leader who’d vote against same sex marriage”.

Drew Hendry‘s Twitter feed followed a similar pattern; at 10.45am on yesterday he wrote it was “exciting to think how we could have such capable yet relatively young leadership, with a fresh perspective” but by 11am on today he’d changed his mind too; “sadly, I cannot continue to back Kate’s leadership bid”.

Had they been unaware of her Wee Free membership? Her beliefs? The rest of us knew. It’s more likely that they withdrew their backing because the tide of public opinion was turning against her. For that, they lose my respect. By sticking to her principles, Forbes has shown nothing but integrity.

Frankly, I am a little uneasy that in Scotland, a country that aspires to be open, inclusive and welcoming to all, our next First Minister might hold opinions that belong in another century.

But I am somewhat reassured; she has declared she has “zero intention or interest in changing the law that allows for other people to have an abortion”, and has no intention of withdrawing the right to same sex marriage either.

How could she? In our democracy, even as First Minister, she’s only one MSP, with one vote. With a groundswell of public and political opinion against her in these already determined matters, our liberal laws are safe.

My own views are clear – no woman takes lightly the decision to have an abortion, but those who do make that choice must be afforded medical and pastoral care, the right to privacy, and the right not to face a barrage of protesters outside clinics.

Similarly, our state cannot and should never legislate or discriminate about who each of us chooses – or happens – to fall in love with. I was proud, in 2014, that the Scottish Government voted overwhelmingly in favour of same sex marriage. It represented a new chapter of inclusivity for our country.

But part of me was also proud that in debating it, MSPs were given a free vote, and allowed to vote with their beliefs rather than any party whip.

In a show of true democracy, and in the face of 105 who were in favour, 18 MSPs opposed the bill. Three of those, including Fergus Ewing, were from the Highlands and Islands.

But just as there was no huge public outcry against the dissenters then – not that I can remember, at least – there shouldn’t be an outcry against Kate Forbes’ views becoming public today.

In having some of the most liberal laws on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, Scotland is – apparently – a wonderfully tolerant and liberal society. But how tolerant are we really, if we can’t tolerate Forbes’ personal views?

I’m fed up being told that ‘everyone’ has a right to freedom of expression, only to hear people being ‘cancelled’ because they dare to voice dissenting opinions.

If Forbes’ bid to become First Minister fails purely because of her beliefs on matters which have already been fully enshrined in law, and which she assures us she has no interest in repealing, we may be missing out on a sharp, intelligent, and economically astute next First Minister.

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