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Highland MSP Kate Forbes’ campaign in meltdown as supporters backtrack over same-sex marriage comments

SNP backers including Richard Lochhead and Gillian Martin immediately U-turned less than a day after her leadership bid began

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has denied her campaign is over before it has begun. Image: PA.

Kate Forbes says her campaign to replace Nicola Sturgeon is “absolutely not over” despite losing support from a number of backers over her views on equality.

Support for the leadership hopeful began to melt away after she admitted her conscience would not have allowed her to vote in favour of same-sex marriage.

Ms Forbes, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan are running to replace Ms Sturgeon, following her shock resignation.

In a hectic 24 hours since the campaign launch:

  • Ms Forbes said she would not have voted for same sex marriage if she had been an MSP when the bill passed in 2014.
  • She personally would “seek to avoid” having children outside of marriage.
  • The Scottish Greens said her election would “compromise” the governing coalition.
  • And she faces a “transphobic” claim which could see her forced to apologise or suspended from the party.

Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin withdrew support from Ms Forbes late on Monday night, within 12 hours of having first endorsed her.

Moray MSP Richard Lochhead initially said he was “delighted” Ms Forbes had put her name forward in the race.

But just over 12 hours later he said the SNP “can’t have a party leader who’d vote against same-sex marriage”.

Business Minister Ivan McKee, one of her key backers from the outset, said on Tuesday that he “firmly supports equal marriage”.

He told Channel 4 News he would be “talking to Kate later on about the campaign” but declined to say if his support would continue.

‘I have red lines’

This was followed by SNP ministers Tom Arthur and Claire Haughey turning their back on her campaign.

Inverness MP Drew Hendry also withdrew support, saying he knows “how important it is to bring people together and understand the plurality of opinions”.

Ms Martin said: “We must be full throated in our support of equal marriage. No if or buts.

“I won’t be supporting Kate’s campaign on that basis.

“I wish her well – she’s extremely talented. But I have red lines. And this is one.”

Andrew Bowie, MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said the SNP “splintering” over leadership and “divisions coming to the fore” will benefit the Tories in the north-east.

Gillian Martin, SNP MSP for Aberdeenshire East, has withdrawn her support. Image: Supplied.

Despite the crumbling support, Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, rejected suggestions her campaign is over before it began.

“I understand people have very strong views on these matters,” she said.

“I think the public are longing for politicians to answer straight questions with straight answers and that’s certainly what I’ve tried to do in the media yesterday.

“That doesn’t necessarily allow for much nuance.

“My position on these matters is that I will defend to the hilt everybody’s rights in a pluralistic and tolerant society, to live and to love free of harassment and fear.”

But in a later interview with STV, she appeared less certain of staying the course in the campaign.

Asked if she’s committed to see it through, she replied: “At the moment, yes.”

Gender reform

Ms Forbes has also said she would not have voted for the Scottish Government’s controversial gender recognition bill.

As she was on maternity leave, she did not participate in the final vote before the new year but has been clear on her opposition since 2019.

The Herald reported that members of the SNP’s LGBTQ+ wing have accused the leadership candidate of breaking party rules on transphobia. 

In an interview with ITV Border, Ms Forbes said she believes a trans woman is a “biological male who identifies as a woman”.

Erin Lux, the co-convener of Out for Independence, has now submitted a formal complaint to National Secretary Lorna Finn.

If Ms Forbes is found to have breached the rules she could be required to make a formal apology or even be suspended from the party, the Herald reported.

Forbes regrets any ‘pain or hurt’

The finance secretary later said she regrets the pain caused by her comments.

On Times Radio, she said: “I regret enormously the pain or hurt that has been caused because that was neither my intention, and I would seek forgiveness if that is how it’s come across.”

Withdrawing his support, Mr Arthur, who is public finance minister, said equal marriage is “amongst our parliament’s greatest achievements”.

On Tuesday, Ms Haughey, Minister for Children and Young People, said she is “unequivocal” on her “absolute and complete” support for equal marriage.

Humza Yousaf is now favourite to become first minister. Image: PA.

Meanwhile, Mr Yousaf has said he will “always fight for the equal rights of others”.

Asked what he thought of what Ms Forbes had to say on same-sex marriage, he told the Good Morning Scotland programme: “It’s for her to defend her views, I’ve made my views very clear.

“I think my track record on equality issues speaks loud and clear.”