SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes has insisted she has “progressive views” after scrutiny of her religious beliefs.
The Scottish finance secretary lost several supporters in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon when she admitted she would have voted against gay marriage in Scotland at the time it was made legal almost a decade ago.
She subsequently told Sky News that her faith means having children outside of marriage is “wrong” and something she personally would “seek to avoid”.
Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, has also voiced opposition to Holyrood’s gender legislation and has failed to fully commit to banning all forms of conversion therapy.
Asked if she considers herself to have progressive views, Ms Forbes told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I do indeed.
“I think we live in a pluralistic, tolerant society, which allows space for everyone. And of course, the definition of progressivity is that we stand up for those who have no voice and ensure that we are representing their interest in Scotland today.”
Ms Forbes was then pressed on her views on gay and trans conversion therapy, which the Scottish government has committed to ban by the end of the year.
During a Sky News leadership debate last week, Ms Forbes was asked six times if she would end the practice even fro those who consent to it – and did not give a straight answer.
Although she called conversion therapy “abhorrent”, she got tangled up when asked about people who wanted it done to themselves, saying they “should be allowed to live freely as they choose, I do not think there should be conversion therapy in Scotland”.
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Pressed for clarity on her position on Sunday, she repeated her stance that conversion therapy is “abhorrent” but said “lived experiences” should “inform the approach that we take to the debate”.
“I understand that there are people who will see that there is no non-coercive approach to conversion therapy and I’m not here to try to argue with that,” she said.
“I’m here to build on the experiences that people have shared and ensure that any approach we take to the legislation reflects those lived experiences.
“But it is a very sensitive issue and I do think it is important that rather than give you a sort of quick ‘gotcha’ answer on a matter of such importance that we do reflect on the consultation responses and we ensure the legislation bans such an abhorrent process.”
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Leadership rival Humza Yousaf has tried to exploit Ms Forbes’ perceived weakness with SNP voters on social issues by suggesting she is “abandoning the progressive agenda” of the party.
‘Stunning level of scrutiny’
Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, Ms Forbes said there has been “quite a stunning level of scrutiny and perhaps backlash from some quarters” around her religious views.
She said other people of faith have held high office in the UK and she vowed to ensure Scotland is a “tolerant and pluralistic nation”.
Addressing the gay community, she added: “I give you an honest pledge today to govern in a way that delivers for you, that does not in any way undermine your rights and actually seeks to enhance your opportunities in Scotland to ensure that Scotland is truly that tolerant and pluralistic nation that we all want to see.”
The interviews were pre-recorded as Ms Forbes does not work on Sundays due to her religion – though she has said she would if she is elected first minister.
She was speaking before the SNP was plunged into turmoil over the weekend as chief executive Peter Murrell, who is married to Nicola Sturgeon, quit after a row over the party’s membership numbers.
His departure came shortly after that of media chief Murray Foote, who said there had been a “serious impediment” to his role.
Ms Forbes, who along with the other candidates had called for the membership numbers to be released, told Sophy Ridge she has “full confidence in the integrity of election contest”.
She said the significant fall in paid-up support to the SNP that the party was forced to confirm, demonstrates that “we do need to focus and deliver change”, adding: “Continuity won’t cut it.”