Can an evangelical lead the nation? Not in Scotland it seems

Kate Forbes

A few days ago, Kate Forbes looked like she was taking over from Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the Scottish National Party, which holds had of the seats in the Pàrlamaid na h-Alba or Scottish Parliament – and become First Minister.

That was until she was asked about gay marriage. Then, answering a question from a journalist, she said that her conscience would not have allowed her to vote for same-sex marriage, which was legalised in Scotland in 2014.

High-profile backers in the party began to move away from her almost immediately. Forbes is no longer the front runner.

Forbes is a member of the Free Church of Scotland, an evangelical group sometimes known as the “The Wee Frees.” The Other Cheek was surprised that the BBC phoned Sydney to get the church’s views for The World Tonight on Radio 4, their version of Radio National  – but perhaps it was in keeping with the show’s name.

But it was a wise move by the church because David Robertson, who now works for the Sydney Anglicans, is a former moderator (leader) of the denomination, is quick on his feet – a good media talent. the interview is worth a read -illustrating how a conservative Christian can respond to difficult questions.

Asked, “What do you make of the reaction to her openness? Let’s call it that.”

Robertson responds, “Yeah, I think so. [to the ‘openness tag.] The more interesting thing is that she wasn’t standing up and saying these things [unprompted]. She was being asked them.

‘And she’s been asked them continually by journalists, and prompted by the establishment, shall I put it within the SNP who are horrified at the prospect of her replacing Nicola Sturgeon. So she gets asked gotcha questions. And unlike many, many Christians in the UK today in politics feel they have to avoid – she’d been advised to lie. And she said, ‘No, I’ll just be honest.’

Asked why such a  strong reaction, Robertson says it was because she was the frontrunner. “That’s why they’ve gone through it with such viciousness. I don’t know if you’ve been following, but even [SNP MP] Joanna Cherry has been forced to say look, call off the hounds. It really is quite ridiculous.” 

He immediately pushes back at Kate Forbes’ rivals.

“They’re horrified at the prospect of the establishment having gone, but they’re not horrified at her being illiberal. There is no one more illiberal, I think, in the UK at the moment than the Scottish Government. I mean, the person who people now expect to be elected, Humza Yousaf, passed hate crime laws, which amongst other things, men for parents could be penalised for what they said at their kitchen table to their own kids.”

The presenter asks if Forbes could have avoided the issue. “Are you surprised that, in a sense, she did she didn’t have to choose to be so open about her religious views? She could have dodged these questions. She could have answered them differently.”

Robertson points out that Forbes’ views were known.

“She could have lied, and she could have dodged them, and they would have persisted,” Robertson says. ,,, “The people, the MSPs, who are withdrawing from her at this moment, are doing so out of sheer cowardness, not because they suddenly realised her views. They know our church; they know what we teach. By the way, we teach the same as the Catholic Church and the Muslims. I’m intrigued that nobody has asked Humza Yousaf about the Koran or some of the passages in it. And incidentally, none of them has asked him about personal views on same-sex marriage.”

The Presenter says Yousaf was asked questions. Robertson points out they were soft. “Yousaf was asked about faith in general, and he said it didn’t affect his policies. Which, if the journalist had pushed on it, doesn’t make any sense at all. But you could ask [him] about specific things. Kate Forbes is being asked about every specific detail about social liberal policies that people don’t agree with her views. She’s not being asked about poverty, which for me, is a much more important issue or independence or the NHS.”

The conversation goes to the issue of whether there is room for unpopular views. “What do you say to those who argue it’s simply that the party believes her views are out of step with mainstream public opinion?” Robertson is asked 

“Well, you see, the trouble is, you’re right using the phrase the party what the party says is true. It is extremely Orwellian. I think we keep getting told what mainstream public opinion is. And I want to know who determines that opinion. I personally think that most people admire a politician who’s willing to speak the truth. See, the point is here. We’re arguing about an issue of same-sex marriage that will not come up for debate. And we’re ignoring issues like the failure of the NHS, which Yousaf is currently in charge of all right, which is in reality right now. And it seems to me that this is absolutely an anti-Christian getcha. If she is forced out, then I would suggest this is a sign of an illiberal intolerant society, not of a tolerant society.”

Regarding public opinion, the follow-up interview is with a pollster Sir John Curtis. Suppose the issue had been transgender rights (with the SNP pulling back from a bill to make gender change much more accessible after controversy on prisoners seeking to transition and be in women’s prisons, including men who had violent offences against women). In that case, it might have been different. 

Curtis says, “That’s an issue where public opinion in Scotland is, for the most part, oppose what the Scottish, the Scottish Parliament passed, and even amongst SNP support is opinion is at best evenly divided, and somebody suggested they are against. Well, when it came to gay marriage, of course, this is an issue where, frankly, social attitudes have been through a revolution not just in Scotland, throughout the UK.”

He points to a 2014 poll “even amongst those who identified as Christians, 59% supported the change of law. And the truth is that the Christian community itself is not united on this issue. And… Kate Forbes perhaps doesn’t realise how relatively unpopular her stance on that issue happens to be.”