Kate Forbes, as we all know, has a strong role in Holyrood as the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy since February 2020. She has been on maternity leave since July 2022, with John Swinney, Deputy First Minister, currently assuming her duties in that role until her return. She has served as member of the Scottish Parliament for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch constituencies since 2016. Her professional background is in accountancy and she studied History at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh.
As Finance Secretary, Ms Forbes has managed uprating benefits by 6% and was able to increase all social security benefits in line with inflation. She secured an extra £22.9bn on social security to increase devolved welfare spending. With regard to public sector pay, she authorised a 3% pay rise, which the unions weren’t too happy about it.
Ms Forbes defends the idea that private sector businesses should play a pivotal role in contributing to Scotland reaching its net zero goals. For this, however, the government needs to invest in this sector.
Start of the campaign and her faith
Ms. Forbes’ campaign didn’t start on the right foot. Her views against the GRR Bill and same-sex marriage, due to her faith, caused an uproar in both the mainstream media and social media when she gave interviews where her focus was to be honest. Talking about it, she said:
“This election is about independence, who is best equipped, and who has the best plan to achieve it. It is also about the society we want Scotland to be – where tolerance is the ruling ethic, poverty becomes history, equality of opportunity is the birthright of every child.
“Over the last few days, questions have focused on my faith. I feel greatly burdened and heartsore that some of my responses to direct questions in the media have caused hurt to friends, colleagues and fellow citizens. That was never my intention, but I’ve listened carefully.
“I will protect the rights of everybody in Scotland, particularly minorities, to live and to love without fear or harassment in a pluralistic and tolerant society. I will uphold the laws that have been hard won, as a servant of democracy.
“I will also seek to enhance the rights of everybody to live in a way which enables them to flourish. I firmly believe in the inherent dignity of each human being; that underpins all ethical and political decisions I make.
“I’ve represented my constituents for 6 years. In full knowledge of my faith, voters re-elected me with one of the biggest majorities in Scotland in2021. That demonstrates that voters were comfortable knowing that I would serve them faithfully and without prejudice.
Since 2018, I’ve served in the Scottish Government, making financial decisions for the benefit of all of Scotland’s people. The Budget underpins all Scottish Government policies – serving everybody and upholding their rights.”
Her position in the contest
For some, the news that Ms Forbes has gained the support of more than 25% of the party’s voters, might have come as a surprise after her inauspicious campaign start. According to a poll carried out at the end of February, for communications agency The Big Partnership, under a third of those who voted in the last Holyrood election are still indecisive and 28% said they favoured Ms Forbes. Another poll undertaken online by Opinion Matters found that 20% of SNP voters back Yousaf and 7% Regan.
Asked about the criticism from senior politicians over her earlier comments, Ms Forbes said:
“I don’t really know what’s going on and I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions about who [Swinney and Sturgeon] are favouring or not favouring or anything like that. So I’m quite relaxed about everything.
“Because I’m confident in the voters within the SNP. Every elected representative in the SNP has one vote. They are equal to an activist on the Isle of Skye who’s a crofter and who has one vote. So in a democracy, I think you put yourself forward as a candidate and you let democracy do its thing. And that’s okay.”
In Ms Forbes’ own words:
“Someone put it to me that we’ve become the referendum party and not the independence party.”
“The conversation has become so embroiled in discussions about process that we’ve given up on actually trying to persuade people.”
“I would bring a willingness to reach out beyond Yes voters, to properly listen to No voters – to not offend them, and listen to them, and bring them on board.”
“Secondly, there would be a significant focus on our economy, which seems to be where the fault lines are drawn when it comes to arguments for and against independence.”
“The mission is ultimately to shift the dial on support for independence. Because once that dial starts to shift significantly, then I think it is a lot harder for other governments to say no to a referendum.”
“The difficulty to date has been is they’re saying no, and they know they can get away with it – because there hasn’t been that sustained majority support.”
We cannot deny that Kate Forbes is a strong candidate and is regarded as a competent Cabinet Secretary for the Government. The results from the polls carried out and mentioned above may reflect what the population is most concerned about – the cost of living crisis, improving public services and economic growth – and those issues may form the basis for how they judge the candidates’ strategies.