Self-declared atheist and Scottish National Party MSP, Ivan McKee, says the Christian faith of his ministerial colleague Kate Forbes should not be allowed to stand in the way of her becoming Scotland’s next First Minister.
He told Times Radio: “The candidate that will stand head and shoulders above anyone else... would be Kate Forbes.”
Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon announced her intention to stand down just two days ago, and the starting gun has been fired on the race to replace her. So far, Finance Minister and proclaimed SNP rising star Kate Forbes has not announced her intentions and remains on leave after the birth of her first child.
Her spokesperson told Premier: “Kate is currently on maternity [leave] and will be returning as constituency MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch in due course.”
In his remarks to Times radio, Mr McKee, who sits alongside Kate Forbes as business minister in the Scottish government, said he didn’t think her Christianity would be a hurdle to standing and that she would “energise the party”:
“If we get to the point where we’re saying that people of a certain faith can’t hold political office because of their faith then that would be a very concerning situation. “
“If Kate had a different faith we absolutely wouldn’t be making those kind of comments.”
“I don’t think her faith is in any way relevant. She’s a hugely talent individual, she’s an authentic person and she has got some remarkable political skills who engages extremely well with everyone she talks to. She’s committed to Scotland and the cause of Scottish independence.”
Since Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement, much of the speculation about Kate Forbes has centred on the MSP’s confessed faith in Christ. The Guardian newspaper said “it could be problematic”, the Daily Telegraph asked “is she simply too Christian to lead a modern political party?” while the New Statesman declared “Profound and difficult questions will be asked in the coming days, and they’ll place Forbes in a very difficult position indeed. Difficult, but surely crucial for any modern and viable democracy.”
Her critics say she could be at odds with the wider SNP membership on some social issues, including the hotly-debated gender reforms blocked by the Westminster government and abortion.
The SNP's ruling body has set out the timetable for the contest, with ballots closing on 27th March. No-one has officially declared they want to step into the First Minister's shoes, with only Health minister Humza Yousaf saying he is giving it “serious consideration”.
Other important figures have ruled themselves out – including SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn and the entirety of his group of MPs – and Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP. Candidates have until noon on Friday, 24th February to put themselves forward.
A Free Church of Scotland member, Kate Forbes was thrust into the political limelight by having to step in and deliver the Scottish budget at the 11th hour in 2020 after her predecessor Derek Mackay resigned in disgrace.
Her bold confession of Christ came to public attention after an interview with Nick Robinson of the BBC, in which she declared:
“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.”