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KATE FORBES: 'It is not actually about religion, it is about intellect over opinionated stupidity'

By Scott Maclennan

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Kate Forbes MSP reflects on a year in the public eye from dealing with ‘opinionated stupidity’ to ‘fashionable morality’. After a bruising leadership election she says ‘it has been a very weighty year’, adding: 'I feel a lot more self-confident’.

Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, has said she is now “a lot more self-confident” after a tumultuous year that saw her get to within 2142 votes of becoming the First Minister of Scotland in an SNP leadership campaign that was bruising to say the least.

The severe criticism Ms Forbes faced due to her religious faith and views, far from pushing her to be more circumspect, has in fact emboldened her as she insists on drawing a line between public politics and private belief.

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SNP called on 'to move heaven and earth' to get Forbes back in cabinet

That was a difference lost on a number of her initial supporters within the party – more to their detriment than hers – but she did connect with the public who felt her more pragmatic approach was what the government needed.

Ms Forbes is well known for her patience and cordiality when dealing with people but is now much more likely to call a spade a spade and is no longer inclined to tolerate fools gladly.

Her frustration at the quality of public debate in Scotland is evident.

The former cabinet secretary for finance, famously parachuted in to give the budget after the Derek Mackay scandal saw him removed on the eve of it being unveiled, believes change must also come to Holyrood.

The experience of aiming to lead the SNP and the country, she said, was not entirely negative: “The campaign would be so consequential personally and I also think nationally as well.

“So, looking back, I feel it has been a very weighty year. I think it has prompted a lot of questions for me but I also think there's a legacy of questions for the country, in terms of the nature of liberal democracy, the role of personal conviction in politicians’ policies as well as how we manage the conflict of rights.

“And perhaps that's particularly acute because we finished last year with the Gender Recognition Act on every front page and we're finishing this year with a court case that's been unsuccessful and, to be honest, the Gender Recognition Act is no further forward than it was at the end of last year.”

Asked about the impact of criticisms of her religious faith, she said it was less about her religion and more about “opinionated stupidity.”

Nicky Marr, Ash Regan, Humzah Yousaf and Kate Forbes during the leadership debate in Inverness. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Nicky Marr, Ash Regan, Humzah Yousaf and Kate Forbes during the leadership debate in Inverness. Picture: James Mackenzie.

She said: “I do think that the leadership contest and with all its flaws as well as its difficult questions, has posed that choice, I think, to Scottish and British politics in a way that other things perhaps haven't. I think there's that lasting question.

“It is not actually about religion, it is about intellect over opinionated stupidity. So, to have a proper debate in Scotland, it needs to be evidence-based, it needs to be informed by thought, it needs to be weighty. You know, these things, these issues, are at the moment being won or lost on the basis of who has the loudest opinion and who can shut everybody else down.

“And if you're trying to win on the basis of noise and fashionable morality at the cost of intellect then you may win but I think everybody's poorer for it because we're not actually making progress on the substance.”

The issue, as she sees it, is not wounded feelings or insults about something that is clearly deeply held and deeply personal but the damage such interactions have on addressing the problems faced by the country and its politics.

If Ms Forbes was to put her view as a rhetorical question then she may well ask: “How can we fix it if we are not going to honestly look at the evidence available to us? How could we hope to?”

“There's no easy issues today,” she said. “There's just not, I mean, solving poverty is not an easy issue, delivering true qualities, not an easy issue. Economic growth is not an easy issue, even resolving the homelessness crisis is not an easy issue. To assume that you can win by exchanging attack lines or rhetoric or just trying to be noisier than everybody else does everybody a disservice so I think it actually starts with each of us individually.

“I think it starts with journalists and the politicians and in terms of what they see, how they see what their aim is. You know, if journalists are just trying to win as it were by getting the most outrageous headline, that is as damaging to political discourse as a politician, who's trying to win by getting the most inflammatory rhetoric out there and it's not too different from what's happening on Twitter.

“I mean, Twitter is as we well know a documented cesspit. I posted some stuff about the conflict in Sudan and the abuse that came back was just ridiculous. I just made the point that if you to take a step back, and you look at the horrors that are unfolding in Sudan, the horrors in Gaza and the horrors in North Korea perhaps it will put our politics into perspective, which prompted a huge sort of pile-on of people saying that's what's happening in Scotland under the SNP.”

Ms Forbes did criticise people who hold their beliefs sincerely as much as those who engage in virtue-signalling, which she feels leads not just to stupidity but also to group think.

“It's a style of argument that we see all too often and I just call it stupidity,” Ms Forbes said. “It is utterly stupid and I don't know if others are thinking a little bit more carefully before they open their mouths but evidence matters and being willing to break with the crowd.You know, when everybody thinks the same thing, when the group-think is well documented as being the reason for leaders falling, kingdoms falling and countries going into the abyss of economic stagnation or whatever it is – we need people that are willing to at least question everything that's just blithely accepted.

“I think that principle is sorely needed in politics and the whole point of principle is that it's not popular, sometimes it will be popular, many times it won't be popular but the principle still stands and that can be true of anything. I'm not saying that that's a religious issue. It's not. It's just we all have principles. We know what they are deep down – can you stay true to them under the full glare of public scrutiny.

“So I feel a lot more self-confident. I feel a lot clearer in my own mind about my job, my role, my priorities in terms of constituency work and the desperate need for us to improve Scotland.”

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