Scotland's poisonous politics

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Scottish politics, particularly within parties, has never been renowned for kindness and reasoned discussion. When our natural disposition to argumentativeness is combined with the culture war and spiced up with a hearty dose of religious bigotry, we present an even more unedifying sight than usual. Not for nothing is the irascible Groundskeeper Willie in The Simpsons portrayed as a Scot. Looking at Scottish politics I sometimes think he was forced to emigrate because all the other Scots thought him too much of a wimp.

The fight for the leadership of the Scottish National Party, now in full feral swing, shows Scots at their very worst. Since Nicola Sturgeon abandoned the ship which she steered on to the rocks of intransigent transgender insanity, we have three candidates to succeed her: Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan.

Ash Regan, who resigned from the cabinet over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, is on the outside in the betting and is generally held to have little chance against the two leading contenders. Nevertheless, she has come out strongly against Kate Forbes on same-sex marriage and nailed her colours to the mast on most progressive issues.

The continuity Sturgeon candidate backed by the SNP establishment is Humza Yousaf, one-time Transport Secretary, Justice Secretary and at present Health Secretary. At every post he has held Yousaf has failed, perhaps most spectacularly as Health Secretary where he has been labelled the 'worst health secretary since devolution'.

Despite the overwhelming majority of Scots being opposed to the Gender Recognition Bill, Yousaf insists he will fight tooth and nail for the right of confused youngsters to have irreversible surgery and for men to invade women's safe spaces simply because they claim they are women.

Yet as far as the SNP establishment are concerned Yousaf is the sane and sensible choice. The one being portrayed as deranged and unelectable is Kate Forbes. There has been an avalanche of attacks on Forbes from within the SNP and the Scottish media. Her interview with Colin Mackay on STV News on Tuesday was less an interview and more an interrogation. By comparison the later interview with Humza Yousaf was a cosy fireside chat between close chums.

Forbes has made the neophyte political mistake of being honest. She has made it clear that she actually believes the teachings of her church, the Free Church of Scotland. 'To be straight, I believe in the person of Jesus Christ. I believe that he died for me, he saved me and that my calling is to serve and to love him and to serve and love my neighbours with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. So that, for me, is essential to my being. Politics will pass. I was a person before I was a politician, and that person will continue to believe that I am made in the image of God.'

Her Christian faith has shaped her political views, especially her genuine concern for the poor. This is a family trait: her parents worked for a Christian charity amongst India's poorest. As well as being opposed to gender self-identification, she says she wouldn't have voted for same-sex marriage if she had been an MSP when it went through the Scottish Parliament. When it comes to abortion rights Forbes is also openly pro-life. Shockingly for many politicians, she thinks having children out of wedlock is wrong.

That someone is saying what many Scots think is causing an outbreak of fainting with cries for smelling salts amongst the SNP, who pride themselves on their progressive stances. According to Toni Giugliano, the SNP's policy chief, the red line issues for the SNP include transgender legislation, assisted suicide, abortion buffer zones and the rights of sex workers. Forget the poor, the failing health service, the inability to provide ferries, the drugs death toll, a crumbling education system and Humza Yousaf's appalling Hate Crime laws.

This legislation, introduced in 2021, in effect created a new blasphemy law for those who dared to question the 'protected characteristics' decided by the SNP government. The progressives who control the SNP have decided Kate Forbes is a heretic. One SNP activist has already reported her to the SNP disciplinary process for transphobia for saying that a man who changes gender is still biologically a man. Science is no defence within the progressive SNP.

Forbes has been abandoned by many MSPs who originally supported her. They seem astonished that she should continue to hold views which were common knowledge years before this leadership race. When the SNP establishment which controls patronage in Scotland leans on someone they stay lent on.

It is not just the SNP and the media who have come out against the Presbyterian Christian: attacks have come from within the achingly progressive Church of Scotland. Lorna Hood, one-time Moderator of the General Assembly of the C of S, made the bizarre claim that it is 'disingenuous' for Forbes to claim that mainstream Christianity is opposed to same-sex marriage. Only a small number of declining denominations, mainly in the West, support same-sex marriage; the overwhelming majority of Christians worldwide still hold to the teaching of the Bible and tradition that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Kevin McKenna, writing in the Herald about Forbes's leadership challenge, is of the opinion that 'the treatment that she's already beginning to receive offers further evidence of the poison now circulating at the top of the SNP. That you're free to be whoever you want to be, just so long as you're not a Christian'.

However, despite the clear anti-Christian bigotry, she still stands a chance. If Kate Forbes stays in the race, and the rank and file voting members of the SNP listen to their neighbours and friends, she could do the improbable and bring sanity back to Scottish politics.

Campbell Campbell-Jack is a retired Church of Scotland minister. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.