By Stephanie Melnick
She hasn’t even formally resigned as First Minister yet, and I already miss Nicola Sturgeon. As an SNP member myself, I’m looking at the list of candidates with increasing horror as more and more statements come out from both Ash Regan and Kate Forbes that make me genuinely frightened about where they would take Scotland in the (thankfully, unlikely) event that either of them wins.
I’ll admit I looked at the initial list of elected members endorsing Kate Forbes with horror, as I lost respect for person after person who I thought better of. Of course, most of these endorsements didn’t even last a day in the end – with the trend of “disendorsements” following Forbes’ comments that she would have voted against same-sex marriage. Not that these stopped her rightwards spiral – she went on to say that having children outside of wedlock is sinful, a view that probably last had majority support sometime around 1970. As I write, she is still digging herself an even deeper hole.
There are people out there who seem to dislike Humza Yousaf, but I’ve yet to see any actually good reasons why. He’s been blamed for numerous crises outwith his control in several roles; he was Sturgeon’s go-to guy for clearing up a messy department so naturally he ended up in the middle of the mess – even though he often did indeed manage to fix it. A depressing amount of the criticisms levelled at him (especially online) seem to stem solely from racism whether overt or unconscious.
Sure, he could be further left, but I doubt any SNP leader is going to be far enough left for those openly identifying as socialists while the party is still considered a broad church (for better or worse). This leadership contest is, of course, showing us just how broad that church is, and I doubt people on either side are happy about that. There is such a thing as too inclusive when it comes to political opinions. Kate Forbes: case in point.
Here’s many, probably not even all, of the overtly (and often extremely) socially conservative views Kate Forbes has espoused since announcing her candidacy:
– She would vote against same-sex marriage
– Having children out of wedlock is a sin
– She would not challenge the section 35 stopping GRA reform
– Religious figures should be able to perform conversion therapy
– Trans women are men
By comparison, Ash Regan’s anti-trans stances (and anti-sex worker stances) seem almost centrist. At least she’s only socially conservative in some ways, right? No. That sort of thinking is how the Overton window shifts right, and we ought to be careful to resist such ideas lest we end up right of where we started. Besides, Ash might sound less like a US Republican but she certainly is a danger to climate action with her open backing of the oil and gas industry mid-climate crisis. “Pro-apocalypse” isn’t really what I want in a candidate.
And this is just what’s been said in the campaign. If we include the past, there’s much worse out there. Ash Regan is the one credited with bringing the Nordic Model on criminalisation of buying sex to the SNP: an approach that sex workers have repeatedly said will make things worse and put them in danger. This is an issue that those of us trying to bring the SNP leftwards will have to try very hard to tackle in the coming months and years thanks to her.
Kate Forbes, meanwhile, would almost certainly halt any buffer zone legislation given she made anti-abortion comments at a Brian Souter prayer breakfast in 2018. Oh, and Kate is also economically right-wing and in favour of cutting government spending if the social conservatism wasn’t enough for anyone. Party centrists have long lauded her financial abilities, yet a closer look at her policies on economics are a cause for concern.
In contrast, Humza Yousaf has consistently been a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights (despite what certain people are presently trying to smear him with), has a whole host of experience in the most difficult of government departments, and has made a firm commitment to maintaining progressive stances on many issues. He is also, in the times I’ve met him personally, been open and willing to listen to people with new or different ideas.
Regan is attempting to position herself as the “independence-focused” candidate and yet she resigned from the government over the GRR bill so is very unlikely to challenge the UK government’s section 35 order stopping said bill. This challenge is not only about trans rights, though it very much is, but also about defending devolution. If Regan and Forbes will not even stand up for the current powers of the Scottish Parliament, how can we expect them to stand up for independence?
For those who say he isn’t sufficiently dedicated to independence, I must say that I agree with Humza Yousaf’s calls for caution regarding a de-facto referendum. As it stands, frankly, we don’t know if we would win. If we lose, it will damage the cause for who knows how long? Especially given the damage being done to the SNP’s reputation by the overt regressive opinions being espoused by Forbes and Regan, we can by no means guarantee pro-independence parties will get 50% of the vote. Even if we did, without an overwhelming majority it’s unlikely we would convince Westminster to shift their stance. Then, we’re right back where we started. But this is a much longer conversation for another time.
On every single issue, Humza Yousaf is the right candidate. On issues of social justice, this is obvious. On the climate, this is fast becoming obvious. On economics, nobody’s perfect, but some people are better than others and he is certainly better than Forbes. On independence, while many (if not most) people in the movement may disagree, his thoughts and mine align. This leadership contest will make-or-break the SNP as a progressive party. I sincerely hope for Humza’s victory, and I sincerely fear the consequences if he loses.