Pass the Popcorn
It was quite a day in the SNP Leadership campaign with the leading candidates confirming their weaknesses.
A few more days like today and it will seem like the SNP is lost without the inhabitants of a detached house in Uddingston. Just one day into the leadership election proper and it appears to be a contrast between weak candidates which will leave the party badly divided.
Today saw two hopefuls launch their campaigns. Both had very large question marks hanging over their heads: for Kate Forbes the question concerned her social conservatism, for Humza Yousaf the question was about his competence. Let’s take them in turn.
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Forbes: Confirms her Conservatism
In the debate about whether Forbes' views on social issues should rule her out of standing as First Minister, several commentators and SNP figures have said that to even ask such a question is anti-Christian. This is to imply that all Christians are against a woman’s right to choose or the right of everyone to marry the person they love. They don’t. Opinion polling of people of faith, and my own experience working closely with deeply committed Christian politicians, suggest that is far from true.
Before today we knew that Forbes was reluctant to say she supported gay marriage. We also knew Finance Secretary had also been active within Christians for Independence who received a £100,000 donation from anti-gay and abortion rights campaigner Brian Souter. She spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast for Scotland, alongside Souter, saying:
“May our politicians recognise that the way we treat the most vulnerable – whether the unborn or the terminally ill – is a measure of true progress.”
This evening, Forbes gave a series of interviews where she made it clear that her views were just as regressive as was suspected. She told a series of journalists that, yes, she was opposed to equal marriage as she believes marriage is only between a man and a woman:
Those people arguing that Forbes should have been given a free pass on her political views because of her spiritual beliefs have been left hanging by these interviews.
Personally, I have no interest in Forbes's views on the covenant of grace, or whether she believes the Bible is Sola Scriptura. I do have an interest in whether the next leader of my country supports the marriages of many of my friends and the reproductive rights of the women I care about. Where someone who seeks to wield executive and legislative power stands on these issues matters, regardless of whether they have a particular faith or none. These are political issues. Those who pretend they are private issues of conscience are being disingenuous. These interviews should rule her out of leading a party that claims to be progressive.
Of course, Forbes is not only socially conservative but economically so. She was a member of the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission which committed to spending being lower as a proportion of GDP under independence. When presenting her spending review that slashed the public sector workforce in Scotland, the Spectator praised her as “the Tartan Thatcher.” She has set herself against the quantitative easing which kept the economy afloat in recent years. Tory MPs are briefing that the SNP moving to the centre right under her her leadership would represent an appeal to their supporters.
Given the austerity implied by leaving the UK, a shift to the right under Forbes might result in a more honest model of Scexit built around a smaller state. I suspect (and hope) that after today’s interviews, she will never get the chance to do attempt it.
Yousaf: The Incompetent Candidate
Much of the SNP establishment appears to be coalescing around Humza Yousaf as a continuity candidate. That nationalists are now trying to present Yousaf as a ‘safe pair of hands’ demonstrates how little talent Nicola Sturgeon has left her party with.
To say Yousaf has been an accident-prone Minister is an understatement. He is a political Frank Drebin, crashing into trash cans and patting Nordberg on the back at the top of the stadium stairs. He stands on one rake after another, his other foot in a paint pot, bashing bystanders with the ladder on his shoulder as he turns around. Filled with self-assurance, he is seemingly completely oblivious to his own incompetence.
As Transport Minister he helped oversee the ferries that have gone nowhere. On his watch, Scotrail became known as Scotfail. He was fined and given six points for driving without insurance. As Justice Secretary, his mishandling of the Hate Crime Bill achieved the impossible: uniting both sides of the Old Firm against him.
It is as Health Minister though that his mediocrity has really shone through. He has been a record-breaker. The record low for the number of people seen within four hours at Accident and Emergencies has been smashed. Delayed discharge from NHS hospitals is a record high, despite a promise to abolish it. Waiting times for cancer treatment are at a record high. There are record numbers of unfilled nursing and GP vacancies.
This record of record failures has not gone unnoticed by voters. Polling in the last few days by Ipsos shows that Yousaf has significantly higher name recognition than Forbes but that nearly twice as many Scots believe he would do a bad job as First Minister as those who think he is up to the task.
UPDATE: Just noticed another but of polling showing the SNP’s problem. The candidate the voters prefer holds views that may be unacceptable to the party. The candidate the SNP establishment are supporting isn’t rated by the voters.
Promotion should be a reward for achievement. Undaunted, he is determined to “fail upwards, as Jackie Baillie put it in her speech to Scottish Labour conference.
Nicola Sturgeon was famously controlling within her government. A cabinet full of Ministers who have little experience at governing badly needs direction from someone who knows how to deliver. The Minister who failed in everything he touched is unlikely to be the one to turn around the fortunes of a failing government.
While Forbes had a catastrophic evening, Yousaf’s day did little to dispel the feeling he is not up to it. His launch appeared unprofessional, his pitch unconvincing. As one friend who has run more than one leadership campaign launch texted me today: “If you can’t get a couple of pop-up banners printed or remember not to stand in front of an emergency exit sign, you shouldn’t be running for First Minister.”
If the SNP’s future depends on making Humza Yousaf appear like the reliable guy who can be trusted to deliver, they really are in trouble.
What about Regan?
Until this afternoon I had assumed Ash Regan was standing to become the standard bearer for a particular section of the nationalist movement rather than with any expectation of winning. Today has made me think again. Now that party members are being offered a choice been someone living in the last century and the worst performing Minister of this one, they may decide to take a punt on someone else.
Regan’s resignation over gender identification appeals to a significant audience within the SNP, and she has already made a pitch for the ‘fundy’ vote with her opening statement:
“If pro-indepenence parties with a clear mandate for such actions in their manifestos have more than 50%+1 of the votes cast in a Westminster or Holyrood election, this will be a clear instruction that Scotland wants to be an independent nation. We will invite the Westintsr Government to the Scottish Government to commence negotiations and a time-frame for Scotland’s withdrawal from the UK.”
Nicola Sturgeon’s strategy of using one election as a de facto referendum was unpopular enough to contribute to her resignation. Regan suggests using *every* election as a de facto referendum. This is just the first bid in the auction for the votes of a membership who only really cares about one issue.
As the outside candidate in any election, you need to take eye-catching, even extreme views on issues. Regan’s opening gambit shows she has been paying attention to the dynamics of recent leadership elections in other parties. Could she be the Truss or Corbyn of this election? Probably not, but the other candidates confirming the widely held doubts about them doesn’t do her any harm.
There’s another five weeks of this to go.
Culture Corner: Until We Could/I Do
Forbes talking about how she believes marriage can only be between a man and woman was a reminder of how far society has travelled. I thoughts of the end of this beautiful poem by Richard Blanco where his vows are for everyone around the world still denied the right to marry the one they love:
I do, I do and will and will for those who still can’t
vow it yet, but know love’s exact reason as much
as they know how a sail keeps the wind without
breaking, or how roots dig a way into the earth,
or how the stars open their eyes to the night, or
how a vine becomes one with the wall it loves, or
how, when I hold you, you are rain in my hands.
While Andrea Gibson’s powerful verse I Do, explains why all this matters so much:
I want to know that fifty years from
now when you’re in a hospital room
getting ready to die, when visiting hours
are for family members only,
I want to know they’ll let me in to say goodbye.
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