Kate Forbes’ commitment to honesty and integrity sets high bar for others

​During the contest to become the new leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, the reactions to the views of Kate Forbes ranged from the very illuminating to the very chilling.
Kate Forbes congratulates Humza Yousaf on becoming the new Scottish National Party leaderKate Forbes congratulates Humza Yousaf on becoming the new Scottish National Party leader
Kate Forbes congratulates Humza Yousaf on becoming the new Scottish National Party leader

Kemi Badenoch - the Communities Secretary in London said of the backlash: “I think that is sad because I believe in freedom of conscience.

"It’s one of the reasons why many people want to live here.”

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She said she admired Forbes “for not being dishonest” about her faith.

“It’d be very easy for her to tell lies, just so that she could win that election. And she’s not doing that, and I think that that’s something that people need to take into account.”

At the other end of the scale was the chilling comment in The Telegraph at the end of a lengthy article about the Free Church of Scotland of which Kate Forbes is a member.

‘It would be unfair to see the Free Church of Scotland as defining itself as against everyone else. But its members know what they believe and the rest of the country must decide whether it can allow them to take part in public life.’ (My emphasis).

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This antagonism was echoed by the leader of Scotland’s Green party who spoke of ‘deeply conservative social values many people thought we had left behind in the 1960s.”

Whether or not you agree with Kate Forbes’ views, it seems to me that she must be publicly supported and commended for bringing her own convictions to the contest, the Scottish government and to Holyrood.

At the heart of what was a very polarised campaign, one key question was whether faith values can and should have any role in politics. Yet it is simply a statement of fact that every politician (and every elector) already brings their own values and their own perspectives to everyday politics.

If they don’t, whose values do they bring? And crucially, why are non-faith values so often seen as significantly better than faith ones?

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The answer to that question is far from obvious, for politics is NOT a value free or neutral zone.

Kate Forbes has been crystal clear that while she brings her Christian values to the table, she is more than content to stand by the outcome of the democratic process. That, surely, is democracy at its best.

If we believe in a diverse and tolerant society (and I do), it is crucially important that views with which we might not agree are properly heard, understood and valued, including minority ones. NOT to do so, is to take us too far down the road of totalitarianism.

Furthermore, those who called for her to be ignored or silenced are not only demeaning themselves, but degrading the very basis of political discourse, which thrives on thorough debate about how best to create a healthy society.

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In addition, her public and gracious commitment to honesty and integrity sets a high bar for every other elected representative. It is often conveniently forgotten that every single member of parliament or devolved assembly or local council is formally required to sign up to seven principles of public life - which explicitly include honesty, integrity and a commitment to treat others with respect.

Whilst the debate has been played out in the leadership contest for the SNP in Scotland, I suggest that here in Northern Ireland we need to learn many lessons from it, for we have our own share of public scandal – and it is ongoing.

Like every other adult, I will have the opportunity - and the responsibility - to go to the polling station on Thursday 18 May to elect a new set of local councillors.

In the polling booth I will vote for those candidates whose honesty and integrity are clear to see. This will count much more than the plans and promises of any candidate or party. I can think of no good reason to vote for any candidate who engages in shoddy politics or demeans anyone else.

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Indeed, these are so central to my own thinking and values, that if I were a voter in Kate Forbes’ constituency of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, I would probably vote for her even though I would not be a Scottish nationalist.

Though Kate Forbes was not elected leader of the SNP, hopefully, simply by being a serious candidate, she will have helped transform the quality of political debate and policy making right across the UK - including here in Northern Ireland. That indeed would make for a major success.