Campaigners and charities have raised concerns about the influence of groups whose record on civil and human rights has been questioned.
Charities have questioned SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes’ suitability for the role of first minister because of her links to fundamentalist Christian organisations.
Senior human rights figures have pointed to the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP’s involvement with groups espousing anti-LGBT and so-called pro-life views.
On Monday the finance secretary announced her intention to run to replace outgoing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, joining health secretary Humza Yousaf and former minister for community safety Ash Regan in the race.
Ms Forbes was made the early favourite to win the race, with nominations for the role of SNP leader - and presumptive first minister - set to close on Friday.
However, support for her began to drop away rapidly following comments she made about gay marriage.
She said that her faith views – as a member of the Free Church of Scotland – would have meant she would have voted against same sex marriage if she had been an MSP in 2014.
Ms Forbes also has links with evangelical groups which have regressive views on a range of social affairs, including abortion, trans rights and LGBT equality.
She is linked to many through the Evangelical Alliance charity.
The Evangelical Alliance is openly opposed to homosexuality and same-sex relationships, preaching sexual abstinence for those with same-sex attractions. It has also raised concerns about moves by the Scottish Government to ban so-called “conversion therapy”.
Ms Forbes spoke at an event in February 2020 hosted by Perth Baptist Church and chaired by Evangelical Alliance. She said at this event that hate preacher Franklin Graham should be allowed to perform, despite widespread outrage following the US evangelist’s tour of the UK being cancelled by every UK venue, including Glasgow’s SSE Hydro. Miss Forbes said at the time there was a need to hear opposing views, adding: “There’s no politics without debate.”
Charities have questioned Ms Forbes’ suitability to become first minister due to her personal views and because of these links.
Stephen Evans, chief executive officer of the National Secular Society, told TFN: “Voters will rightly be concerned if Kate Forbes is aligned with groups campaigning to restrict women’s reproductive rights, deny equal rights to same-sex couples, or obstruct reforms to give people the choice of an assisted death at the end of their lives.
“It’s one thing to live life according to your own conscience, it’s quite another to seek to impose your religious beliefs on others through the law.
“Ms Forbes is entitled to her beliefs. But those beliefs should be open to scrutiny – and if they are at odds with values of the party and nation she aspires to lead, she may not be the ideal candidate for the job.”
These concerns were echoed by Humanist Society Scotland. A spokesperson for the group told TFN: "Humanist Society Scotland is aware of Kate Forbes's links to a number of evangelical charities as well as her recent and historical statements on anti-abortion views, against equal marriage, and against the GRA reform.
“We will, of course, work constructively with any new First Minister to push for the humane, compassionate, and rational legislation that humanists want to see. This encompasses not only GRA reform but also assisted dying for the terminally ill and a number of issues around reproductive rights, including creating safe access zones around abortion services.
“We would add that Humanist Society Scotland is by no means opposed to an individual's right to practise their faith in their own lives. However, it is legitimate to question political leaders on how they seek to use that religion to form their policy decisions. After all, they have to govern for the whole country: for people of all religions and none.
“We applaud any candidate who makes a distinction between private faith, whether Christian, Muslim, or any other belief system, and a commitment to policy which recognises Scotland's overwhelmingly secular profile."
Equalities charities have also raised concerns about the ongoing threats to LGBT rights, warning that Scotland “must not be complacent about hard-won progress”.
A spokesperson for Stonewall told TFN: “Scotland has made remarkable progress when it comes to LGBTQ+ equality.
“Since the SNP came to power in 2007 we have seen marriage equality, the pardoning of gay and bi men convicted of having consensual sex, Scotland becoming the first country in the world to embed LGBT-inclusive education across the curriculum, and the Gender Recognition Reform Bill passing with an overwhelming majority, supported by MSPs from across all parties in the Scottish Parliament.
“Now is not the time for regression, but to push forward on inclusive values and policies that bring communities together, such as banning conversion practices and defending the Scottish Parliament’s overwhelming vote for the GRR Bill.
“A more inclusive Scotland is good for communities and businesses across the country, and we must not be complacent about hard-won progress.“
Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland - a campaign group fighting for the right to harassment-free access to abortion services in Scotland - said it has concerns about Ms Forbes’ association to anti-abortion charities.
She added: “Whilst we believe that everyone should be entitled to their personal opinions, we have serious concerns about Kate Forbes leadership bid and her positioning on LGBTQ+ rights and abortion policy.
“Kate Forbes states that she will not “row back on rights” but doesn’t acknowledge the fact that women in Scotland do not currently have a right to abortion. To access an abortion in Scotland, women still need the approval of two doctors and must meet one of five grounds all because abortion is still governed in criminal law.
“Back Off Scotland want to see abortion removed from the criminal law and this looks impossible under a Kate Forbes government.
“We are also very concerned about the organisations that Kate Forbes has been linked to and her assertions that buffer zone legislation needs to be “balanced” – we believe there is no balancing to be done when women are being harassed and intimidated at the gates of hospitals.
“The legislation needs to be bold and unequivocal. If Kate Forbes cannot commit to this then she is not the right fit for the job.”
A not-for-profit group campaigning for greater democracy in politics has also weighed in on the influence of groups whose record on civil and human rights has been questioned.
When asked about the influence groups such as the Evangelical Alliance could have on an MSP, government minister and prospective first minister, Tom Brake, director of Unlock Democracy, said: "Complete transparency around candidates' agendas and backers benefits any campaign and helps inform the electorate.
“So will an unequivocal commitment to upholding entrenched civil and human rights."
Kate Forbes MSP and the Evangelical Alliance have been asked for comment.