Kate Forbes, the SNP and should politicians keep their religion private?

Kate Forbes has for some time been talked of as a potential successor to Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland.  However, she has a problem, something that might hinder her progress, either barrign her from leadership or losing her the next major election. 

What is the skeleton in her closet? Is it a sex-scandal or a dodgy tax return?  Has she been giving a free ride to antisemites or perhaps sharing a platform with terrorists? No,  the problem with Kate Forbes is that she is known as a conservative evangelical and that affects her views on a number of social and moral issues.

The Guardian picks up on this in its profile of her here and Stephen Evans of the National Secular Society tweets this.

So, what should we make of such responses.  Evans’ comments are confusing for two reasons. First of all, if someone attempts to impose their views on the people when they run against the majority will, then that’s always going to lead to their downfall.  Religion, in that respect is irrelevant.  It’s why for example most politicians, even on the centre left tack towards a hardline position, at least in rhetoric on things like immigration and border control the closer they get to power when many (Boris Johnson being good example actually hold to quite liberal positions on immigration personally).  It’s why Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair both had to go in the end. Indeed, it seems that Nicola Sturgeon’s downfall was that she lost touch with what the majority of Scots wanted. A politician who is out of touch has a short shelf life. 

The second oddity is this whole idea of a politician “imposing their religious/moral views” on people.  It’s a problematic argument because the whole point of living in a democracy is that you cannot impose your views, or not for long.  There’s the small matter of voting, both in election and in the legislature that prevents anyone from imposing or forcing their will.  Kate Forbes may have lots of views and ideas of her own but if she wants them to be implemented, she first has to persuade her party to elect her as leader, then she has to get those ideas turned into party policy. She’ll then need to get the Scottish Electorate to vote in enough of her colleagues as MSPS and then she’ll have to persuade her colleagues to vote for her policies.  She simply cannot impose her views.  Deomcracy doesn’t work like that.

However, the real issue is this.  Whilst Evans’ presented his point as an observation, the view that people must separate out private religious beliefs from public policy is actually the official view of the NSS regarding what ought to happen. This view point comes out strongly in some of the responses to his tweet. 

The position, simply stated is that it’s okay for Kate Forbes to have particular beliefs and morals that she can believe in her mind and even practice in private as part of her church (though even that is becoming more questionable).  Yet what she must not do is articulate those views in public suggest that others should live by the same moral standards or attempt to use legislation to bring those things into law.

Yet, that misses the whole point of what politics is.  The very point of politics is that people have a view on how we all should live, what a good society looks like.  They may get that view from any one of a number of philosophical sources but the point is that it is in the end ideological.  The root philosophy may be religious in that it comes from a belief in God and a claimed revelation or it may be humanist/secular/atheistic but in all cases it is ideological, it is based on belief and it does have a moralistic nature.

The very point then of politics is that there are things that we consider good, not just for us personally but for the wider public and so we will seek to persuade others of them in order to see or prevent change.  To give an example, Heidi Crowter believes that the current laws on abortion discriminate against those with Downs Syndrome.  I agree with Heidi on this. My views here arise from my religious beliefs.  As a Christian, I believe that all people are made in God’s image and worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.  So, I will speak up in support of Heid and I’ll vote for politicians who commit to implementing the things she is asking for.  Why?  Well because I believe that it is beneficial to the whole of society if we recognise that human life has dignity and we seek to protect and care for the most vulnerable in that society. 

Ironically, those who are saying that Kate Forbes cannot be leader of the SNP and First Minister, simply because of her faith as much as anyone are bringing their personal beliefs into the public domain.

One final thought.  We are constantly told that what people most desire in their politicians are honesty, integrity, compassion.  We are constantly told that too many politicians lack these things.  Now, here’s the thing, guess where those values come from?

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