Iain Macwhirter Iain Macwhirter

Is Kate Forbes Scotland’s answer to Giorgia Meloni?

Kate Forbes (photo: Getty)

Scottish nationalists have always looked to Scandinavian countries as models of what a caring, social democratic Scotland would look like if only it could escape the clutches of Westminster. Not anymore. National populism, or what the left call the far-right, is on the march across the Nordic landscape. The Sweden Democrats, the True Finns and the Norway Progress party have shifted the centre of political gravity in those supposedly socialist small states. 

Even in Denmark – home of the left wing TV series Borgen, which Nicola Sturgeon liked to compare her administration to – the government is aggressively repatriating asylum seekers and reportedly bulldozing ‘non-western’ neighbourhoods

Of course, migration is less of an issue in Scotland, not least because there are so few migrants. Scotland is around 95 per cent white and precious few of the 700,000 net migrants that entered the UK last year will find their way north. But national populism is still making an impact north of the Border. Step forward Scotland’s answer to Georgia Meloni: Kate Forbes. 

The former SNP finance secretary would of course be furious at any comparison with the Brothers of Italy leader. But that’s mild compared to what the Greens and the nationalist left say about the Highland SNP MSP. She has been wrongly portrayed by Green party commentators as a ‘bigot’ , ‘homophobe’ and a ‘transphobe’ who is allegedly financed by ‘dark money’.

During the recent SNP leadership campaign Cambridge educatd Forbes was labelled ‘intolerant’ by SNP deputy Westminster leader, Mhairi Black, and a ‘sex-obsessed religious fundamentalist’ by the senior SNP’s John Nicolson. She is a practising member of the evangelical Free Church of Scotland. The former SNP deputy leader, John Swinney, said Kate Forbes’ scripture-based views on abortion and gay marriage meant she wasn’t fit to lead a democratic political party.

Well, he’d better watch out because if Humza Yousaf falls after next year’s expected general election rout for the SNP, the smart money is on Kate Forbes to take over . She was only narrowly defeated by Yousaf in last spring’s leadership race and is the only MSP who looks to be remotely in the running should Humza Yousaf fall under the proverbial bus.

For her part, Kate Forbes insists she is on the progressive left as far as social issues like poverty and public services are concerned. But she’s not going to become a member of the Scottish Green party anytime soon. In fact, she wants an end to the SNP-Green coalition and blames the 2021 Bute House Agreement for many of the SNP’s recent policy disasters, like the crashed deposit return scheme for bottles and cans, and marine conservation measures that would have restricted onshore fishing.

Nor will Forbes ever be one of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘besties’ because of her steadfast opposition to her Gender Recognition Reform Bill. She insists on ‘misgendering’ trans rapists like Isla Bryson by calling them ‘men’ and regards Self-ID as a threat to the safety of women and girls.

She has most recently questioned Humza Yousaf’s plan to increase taxes on the better off. The First Minister is thought to be about to unveil a new 44p tax band on those earning above £75,000 a year. This is intended to help fill the £1.5 billion hole in the Scottish accounts largely caused by more generous public sector pay settlements in Scotland. 

Forbes isn’t against progressive taxation as such, but has warned about ‘behavioural changes’ reducing the tax take and about the impact on business. She insists that only economic growth can generate the revenues necessary to tackle Scotland’s social ills.

The problem for Humza Yousaf is that for all the attacks on Forbes for being right wing she is probably closer in spirit to middle Scotland than he is. It has always been something of a myth that Scottish voters are inherently on the left. They are far from being ‘woke’, as the furious reaction to the Bryson affair demonstrated. Scots voters oppose by around two to one the stalled Gender Recognition Bill which would allow 16-year-olds to change their legal sex by declaration. Nor do Scots subscribe to the Green party’s ‘keep it in the ground’ approach to Scotland’s hydrocarbon energy resources. Indeed they seem to support Rishi Sunak’s view that developing Scotland’s oil and gas is preferable to importing the stuff.

By coming a close second to Humza Yousaf in the SNP leadership campaign, despite the campaign of vilification against her, Forbes demonstrated that many in the SNP share her distaste for identity politics, hair shirt environmentalism and anti-business rhetoric. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if she follows Giorgia Meloni’s path to power. The SNP has a degree of affinity with national populism, after all. It is a nationalist party composed of people who love their culture and want to take back control of their country. Now where have we heard that before? 

Written by
Iain Macwhirter

Iain Macwhirter is a former BBC TV presenter and was political commentator for The Herald between 1999 and 2022. He is an author of Road to Referendum and Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won a Referendum but Lost Scotland.

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