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25 February 2023

Kate Forbes has the right to think what she likes – and we have the right to dislike her for it

The SNP candidate is the electoral equivalent of arriving on a nudist beach in a three-piece suit and wondering why people are staring.

By Marie Le Conte

Here are two opinions I hold. One: if you would like to drive a car, you should have to make your case in front of a panel first. Why do you need to drive? Are you disabled? Do you live far away from all public transport? Does your job absolutely require use of a car? If the answer to all these questions is no, your request would be denied. Onto the train you go.

Two: one in ten convicted rapists should get lynched in the street by a group of women. This one speaks for itself.

I have been sharing my opinions on the internet both for money and out of boredom for my entire adult life, but this is the first time I have gone fully public with either of those. The only people who had heard them until now were friends, and they were usually as tipsy as I was.

I keep those opinions and others to myself because I know they are incredibly unpopular. The vast majority of people disagree with me on these issues. I’m aware of it, I don’t need to ruin everyone’s evenings by stating them again and again.

In fact, I wouldn’t hold it against my friends if they decided to sever ties with me, if I were the sort of person who would not shut up about banning cars and launching mob violence against bad men. Hell, I wouldn’t hold it against the electorate if I stood for election and they decided that I was too barmy to even consider. They’d have a point. It’s called representative democracy for a reason.

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[See also: There’s no point pretending we can stop teenagers watching porn]

You probably see where I’m going with this by now – it’s about as subtle as a zit appearing right on the tip of your nose – but I’ll spell it out. It is fine that Kate Forbes, the Scottish finance minister standing for leadership of the SNP, has been criticised because of her religious views.

The SNP is a socially liberal party. Scotland, by and large, is socially liberal. Forbes is socially conservative; she is against abortion, same-sex marriage and children born out of wedlock (all of which polls show remain widely supported both in Scotland and in the UK overall). She is the electoral equivalent of arriving on a nudist beach in a three-piece suit and wondering why people are staring.

To her credit, Forbes seems to grasp this. She has admitted in the Times that her religious convictions could be a drag on her campaign, but they may not put an end to it altogether. There is currently no data on the intentions of SNP members, but this latest poll shows her leading among SNP voters. Politics is a game of priorities, and independence may well matter to them more than other issues.

Still, somehow, corners of the press and social media have decided that the criticism Forbes has been facing is symptomatic of bigger, more concerning issues. Does this mean that people of faith no longer have a place in public life? Can liberals still claim the moniker if they do not accept views they disagree with? Are we a tolerant country if we do not tolerate any and all views?

These questions didn’t come out of nowhere. They have been floating around the online ether for some years now. They lurk behind debates about free speech and reactionaries getting “cancelled”. They hide in plain sight among the complaints about the metropolitan dinner party set no longer tolerating ideological dissent.

For a while I thought they were quite childish – “why can’t you like me! I want to be liked!” – but eventually I realised they are child-like. It is the desire of a child to say whatever they want to say, as many times as they want to say it, as loud as they want to shout it, and for their parents’ love to remain unconditional.

Everyone has a right to say what they want to say (with a few exceptions set out in law) but no one has a universal right to be liked. If you have beliefs that are deemed offensive by a majority of people, you are free to talk about them, just as they are free to then shun you for talking about them.

It isn’t a dynamic confined to politics. I would be within my rights to tell my friend that I find her partner tedious, and she would be within hers to then block my number on WhatsApp. We all moderate our behaviour in small and big ways because we are social beings. Sharing a world with others means sometimes dulling your edges to fit in. Most people find this to be a price worth paying for popularity or companionship.

A minority enjoy riling people up, getting under their skin, going under the current – and that is fine. Controversialists can, sometimes, liven up an otherwise dull gathering. A fiery debate can, on occasion, be thrilling and fun. Sometimes. On occasion. These are the key words here. Few of us sincerely enjoy constant conflict.

Ultimately, it’s all about choices. No one is asking you to moderate your thoughts; no one will dig a burrow inside your skull to find out what you think in the privacy of your own brain. What comes out of your mouth, on the other hand, will always define your relationship with the rest of the world.

What do you value more: being open about your beliefs even though you know they will alienate you from the majority of your peers (and, potentially, voters), or being accepted and appreciated by those peers? There isn’t really a wrong choice here, but you do have to pick one. That’s something children learn eventually, when they start growing up. You just can’t have it all.

Read more:

Kate Forbes does not get a free pass just because of her faith

Kate Forbes emerges as early favourite for SNP leadership

Is Kate Forbes’s SNP leadership campaign over already?

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