As the race for the leadership of the Scottish National Party hots up following the shock resignation of Nichola Stergeon on 15 February, one of the talking points between Hamza Yousaf and Kate Forbes, the two main leadership contenders, has been the issue of gay marriage.
Kate Forbes has been refreshingly principled in her views on controversial topics such as gay marriage and gender identity, a stance that has lost her support from key figures in her party. Forbes is a member of the Free Church of Scotland which is socially conservative.
In a number of interviews given by Forbes to launch her bid for leadership, she spoke frankly about how her religious faith influenced her views on issues such as gender identity and traditional marriage. On the hot topic of challenging the UK government’s current block on gender recognition reform, Forbes said she would not challenge this issue and maintained that having children outside wedlock was” wrong” and something she would “seek to avoid”. Following inevitable backlash in the media, Forbes did stress that her faith would not stop her from representing the interests of all Scots without prejudice.
Despite his prominence in the SNP, Hamza Yousaf has had a less than stellar record in government and has during his stint, developed a reputation for incompetence. During his term as health secretary, NHS waiting times reached an all-time high, the ambulance service was in crisis and a series of damaging strikes were planned over pay. When Yousaf who has described himself as a “proud Muslim” was giving an interview to Andrew Marr, he was pressed on his stance on gay marriage. He stated: “I’m a supporter of equal marriage. I’m a Muslim, I’m someone who’s proud of my faith. I’ll be fasting in Ramadan in a few weeks time. But what I don’t do is I don’t use my faith as the basis of legislation. What I do as a representative, as a leader, as a member of the Scottish Parliament is, my job is to bring forward policy and pursue it in the best interests of the country.” A Sunday times poll showed that Forbes still had a 2% lead over Yousaf in the leadership contest.
Certainly, Hamza Yousaf follows a trend amongst some politicians who seem to wear the disguise of a Muslim to get elected, usually from areas with a dense Muslim population. These same politicians will also be the first to play the ‘Muslim card’ when placed under any form of uncomfortable scrutiny.
There is a wider question as to whether traditional practicing Muslims can have any role in politics within a secular democracy.