So, first of all, a necessary bit of background. I was brought up in an SNP household, starting in the days when almost no one voted SNP. I saw my mother drunk twice in my life, and once was the night when Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton by-election. My father worked away for the SNP for 60 years, firstly in West Lothian (John Swinney called it ‘the battleground of West Lothian’ at dad’s funeral) and latterly in Corstorphine. He stood as an SNP candidate for the Council when he was 80. There was no other political option tolerated in that household and so, accordingly, I have always voted SNP for Westminster and Holyrood elections. I confess I did vote Tory on the list once, when Ruth Davidson, whom I know and admire, was top of the Conservative candidates’ group. Locally, I repeatedly voted for Maureen Child, the excellent Labour councillor for Portobello, but basically I was a Nat, and my friends and colleagues knew this.
Now I have, over the past five years been very critical of the SNP government on educational matters, but there are some things they have done of which I approve. I admire Nicola Sturgeon very much (although I do not think she would care for me – too flippant) and I was sorry to see her go. History will, I think, be respectful of Nicola, while being critical of one major failing – her inability to succession plan.
We are here now, facing a leadership contest which will result, in all likelihood, in the election of a new SNP First Minister by the Scottish Parliament. The opposition parties must be chortling with delight at the parade of infighting and vitriol underway, and at the paucity of talent among the contenders. There must, surely be a person or persons in the SNP of much greater potential than any of these three, but he/she/they must be biding their time. I fear that, whoever wins this contest, the Independence Project will be set back fifteen or twenty years; I had hoped to see it happen in my father’s lifetime (he died just before the SNP’s first Holyrood government) and then, more realistically in my own. If I eat healthily, drink less, exercise and avoid stressful situations like SNP leadership contests, then I might just make it, but the situation in the here and now is, I’m afraid, desperate.
Ash Regan is not going to win. She is my MSP, and I have voted for her, and indeed, I may find myself doing so again, if she remains in the SNP. That said, apart from her ministerial resignation over the fraught and complex issue of Gender Recognition, I did not previously know much about her, but my learning curve has been steep in the past ten days. Here she is dropping a bottle wrapped in paper with the letters DRS into a bin, which is itself perched askew on top of another bin, in order to indicate her disapproval of a scheme created and backed by her own government. Then, in another gloomy photo, she holds up an old newspaper mourning the failure of the SNP government, of which she was a part, to deliver on the dualling of the A9. These media opportunities remind me of First Year media projects back in the early days when ‘Media’ became a thing in English teaching. Her manner in interview seems bored and mechanical and lost and hapless. She thinks that, if Scotland became independent, it could have its own currency two months later etc etc. She needs to sack her advisory team and think more. But she will not win and may then defect to Alba. My goodness me.
Then there is Humza. I feel I would like him if I met him; I feel he is a genuine and sincere character. I feel this also about Anas Sarwar. I think it is a pity in a way that Alex Neil has pursued him on the issue of gay marriage, but Humza’s hangdog look when questioned about it does suggest to me – after 38 years in schools – that Humza isn’t telling the truth. And he looks exhausted all the time; he’s not even started yet, and he’s tired out. It would be difficult to say that his time as Cab Sec on Health has been a roaring success. But he will probably win, and I hope he does, because it might then be possible for me (and yes, a lot of other people) to continue to vote SNP, though possibly without a spring in my (ageing) step.
But Kate Forbes…oh Ms Forbes, Ms Forbes. Where to begin. All of it is a pity really, because she is far and away away the cleverest of the three, the most energetic (not a high bar) and, perhaps, the one who most sounds like a leader. I’m sure I would have liked to teach her. I don’t really understand money, but there are some signs of competence in her role of Cab Sec for Finance, even if she, in her turn, has talked about the ‘economic carnage’ which would, apparently, be caused by the DRS scheme, a point which she seems to have missed when she was in charge of the economy.
Here is my problem. We all have beliefs. Politicians share their beliefs with voters and voters vote accordingly. You cannot tell the voters about your beliefs then ask them to discount them. Faith is not a defence. Look at what happened to Tim Farron, the homophobic Liberal leader. The Free Church of Scotland has inflexible views about many things, some of which are yet to be explored with Ms Forbes, so rich is the seam presented to the press. Lord Mackay of Clashfern was, of course, suspended from the Free Kirk for attending two Catholic funeral masses, of senior legal figures in Scotland. How does Kate Forbes feel about Catholics? Would she go to a Catholic funeral – say if the President of Ireland died? Would she work on a Sunday – if, perhaps a meteorite was speeding towards Edinburgh?
She doesn’t believe in pregnancy (or sex) outside marriage. She doesn’t believe in abortion. She doesn’t believe in women becoming ministers (except of course for First Minister). None of these things chime with being either First Minster of Scotland, or with being leader (or to be honest a representative of) a progressive modern party like the SNP…seemed, until recently, to be.
Obviously I’m prejudiced against her because I’m a gay non-believer. Ms Forbes assures me that a hallmark of her Scotland would be ‘tolerance’. Well, I have news for Kate Forbes; as a middle-aged, retired, gay man, who had, I think, a pretty successful and useful career, and who tries to practise kindness and optimism in my personal and public life, I don’t want ‘tolerance’, I expect her respect. I might tolerate some teenagers on a bus playing their music too loudly, but my lifestyle, my life, is not for ‘tolerating’; such language opens a door which, to be honest, has never seemed entirely closed to me, starting as I did as a gay man back when homosexuality was illegal. Take a poll of members of the Free Kirk and ask them about reimposing criminality on homosexuality; about reintroducing the death penalty; about banning abortion. That would be an interesting and useful tool in this election. It would remind us that Ms Forbes, who appears so young, like an enthusiastic and clever schoolgirl, is, in fact, 2,000 years old.
I am getting angry as I write this. I have been angry repeatedly in the past fortnight, and I recognise from social media and from many conversations that lots of other people are angry too at the prospect of Ms Forbes as First Minister. Many of these people are the young people on whom the Independence movement depends for success – socially liberal, progressive young people whose views and allegiances are very issue based. They will not vote SNP if Ms Forbes wins, and, if she wins, which I doubt, while she is leader, neither can I.
I think of my father, who is long dead. Would he vote for an SNP leader who would not have allowed his gay son to marry? It would have been a very interesting discussion, and I miss the chance to have it.