Kate Forbes must turn warmth into votes in the Highlands | Scottish National Party (SNP)

PAmela MacKenzie presides over an enviable array of fillings at Batty’s Baps sandwich bar on Dingwall High Street. “Kate Forbes has been very good for the area,” she says. “We are always forgotten in the Highlands, even in the weather reports, but she gets things done.”

Winter is not over yet in the north of Scotland and the pavements are lined with patches of unmelted snow. But the warmth felt by locals towards their MSP, who represents the vast Holyrood constituency of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, and is now one of the leading candidates to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the Scottish National Party, is palpable.

“The Kate we know is always looking for an opportunity to help.” At the end of Main Street is the National Hotel, where Gregg and Kathryn Brain reflect over coffee on the career of the young woman who fought her deportation case “just minutes” after she was elected.

Gregg, Kathryn and Lachlan Brain meet Nicola Sturgeon and Kate Forbes in the Scottish Parliament on May 26, 2016. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

“She went from being one of the youngest MSPs to delivering the budget on mere hours’ notice,” adds Kathryn, recalling the moment in 2020 when Forbes stepped up to replace disgraced former finance minister Derek Mackay, seeding its reputation for economic competence. .

Despite their obvious fondness for Forbes, the couple, both members of the SNP, have yet to decide who they will support in the leadership election. The choice is between Forbes, who promises a “reset” but lost prominent supporters when she exposed her opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion as a member of the socially conservative Free Church of Scotland, health secretary Humza Yousaf, who he enjoys the majority of MSP support and is considered the continuity candidate, or the outlier Ash Regan.

The Brains represent a significant minority of undecideds who are key to a contest described as existential in terms of its impact on the party’s future ethos, policies and independence strategy.

It was to this group that Forbes appealed directly on Saturday, when the party was thrown into turmoil when its chief executive, and Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, resigned along with media chief Murray Foote in an escalating dispute. more about transparency on the numbers of party members.

Forbes promised to “restore trust and transparency” in the party’s internal dealings, but Ken Gowans, Inverness South councilor and party member for half a century, says “his honesty, integrity and ability to communicate with a variety of people” they expand it. appeal far beyond membership: “If you look at the polls, she’s the candidate with the backing of the general public.”

While he insists that “there is no such thing as a typical SNP member,” he also advises ignoring loud endorsements online: “What’s missing on social media are the broad swaths of moderates in the middle and they’ll be the ones to decide.”

The finance secretary, technically still on maternity leave, spent much of her childhood in Dingwall, a town northwest of Inverness, and is now raising her young daughter with her husband, Ali, in a nearby village.

Everyone agrees she enjoys a local advantage: some members say they’re surprised how many find her social views less jarring because they know her; others suggest that her fluency in Gaelic gives her a direct connection to thousands of people, particularly on the West Coast.

There is clear frustration among members of the Highland SNP that the competition for leadership has not looked far enough beyond the central belt, a reflection of Sturgeon’s “urban based Central Scotland” approach. They believe that a Gaelic-speaking Highlander at Bute House would put more focus on rural concerns such as public transport, ferries, depopulation and lack of affordable housing.

But while these members are facing geo-specific challenges (one is struggling to make the 100-mile round trip to the nearest hustings after writing off his vehicle in a deer accident), they are also wrestling with the same issues that members from all over Scotland.

Sturgeon was so popular for so long that some members are still reeling from his resignation, one suggests, but the clear differences between the two leading candidates on economic and social issues have “energized” and “renewed” members. Others have found the attacks on Sturgeon’s record by Forbes and Regan, and his hints of irregularities in the voting process last week (which were derided as “Trumpian” by his colleagues), “hugely disappointing.”

Some believe the party can continue as a “broad church,” uniting different views under the umbrella of independence. But younger members in particular say they have had to dismiss Forbes because of its position on LGBTQ+ equality, while others praise its insistence that transgender law reform is not a priority for most voters.

Sue Lyons, who created the Highland branch of Women for Independence during the 2014 referendum campaign and a supporter of Humza Yousaf, is concerned about potential fractures.

“The formulation of Kate’s views as matters of conscience fails to take into account how fundamental those issues are to me. I’m just not sure I can stay in a party that is not fully committed to equality and abortion rights.”

Others dispute the terms. “It’s interesting that as soon as you’re business-minded, you’re described as right-wing,” muses architect Neil Sutherland, director of Inverness-based green building firm Makar, where Forbes paid a recent campaign visit. “Kate has been talking about creating wealth, which is vitally important for Scotland, which has been weakened economically and has much more potential.”

Sutherland is also one of those who suggest that Forbes’ faith-informed views are treated with more pragmatism in the Highlands, where the integration of church and community means people find ways to get on out of sheer necessity. . Similarly, Kathryn Brain describes how locals of all faiths came together to support her family. There is certainly a protectiveness around what some interpret as urban condescension about Highland beliefs.

Kate Forbes speaks to the media.
Kate Forbes speaks to the media. Photograph: Paul Campbell/PA

“The contemporary church is very different from perception,” says the Rev. Calum Iain Macleod, a minister at Ferintosh and Resolis Free Church, who officiated at Forbes’ 2021 wedding. “Every church community has its church DNA, but we recognize that we are ministering in the 21st century.”

While Forbes has been heavily criticized for its past opposition to the ordination of women in the Free Church, Macleod says the current congregation of up to 100 includes women in the music group and welcoming team, while the support group pastoral is run by women. “In terms of equality, it is a very balanced boat.” While there are no gay members, “as a church community we would never exclude anyone.”

Although Forbes pre-recorded his interviews with this week’s Sunday politics shows, Macleod insists the church has outgrown a strictly Sabbatarian mentality. “It’s just common sense. I don’t think Kate turns off her phone on Sundays.”

Leave a Comment