SNP leadership candidate says road to independence ‘starts with respect’ for unionists -Dlight News

SNP leadership candidate says road to independence 'starts with respect' for unionists

Finance Secretary and leadership candidate Kate Forbes said Scotland’s ruling Scottish National Party needs a leader who can build support for independence by listening to and respecting those who favor union with the UK.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Forbes, 32, also sought to ease tensions within the SNP over criticism of her record and questions about the integrity of the election to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as party leader and first minister.

The campaign to replace Sturgeon has exposed the bitterest internal divisions in the SNP in two decades, fueled by differences over her stalled strategy for independence and other issues.

But Forbes said members, who must elect a new leader by March 27, knew they needed to “reach beyond the SNP”. She pointed to polls showing she has more appeal among Scottish people, even though most SNP heavyweights have backed her main rival and the bookies’ favourite, Health Secretary Humza Yusuf.

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“I am very conscious that our political discourse has become extremely vitriolic, toxic, angry, disrespectful,” Forbes said, stressing the SNP’s need to win people over to independence.

“It needs to start with respect and it needs to start with listening, which are fundamentally different approaches,” she said.

Polls show Scots are almost evenly split on whether to end Scotland’s three-century-old union with England. Forbes’ relatively gradualist approach may disappoint those in the SNP who believe Sturgeon should push harder for a second independence referendum as Scots voted 55-45 per cent to stay in the union in 2014.

“Our approach needs to take as many people as possible into Scotland with us,” Forbes said. “I am popular across most of the political divide and exactly the kind of person you want to lead your party and your country to freedom.”

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The testy leadership election has shattered the SNP’s previously impressive reputation for internal unity and discipline.

Forbes, who was on maternity leave when Sturgeon announced her resignation, has slammed the government she serves in, saying the televised leadership debate would be “more than” an “acceptance of mediocrity”.

The finance secretary also attacked his cabinet colleague Youssef for his record on health, justice and transport, blaming him for NHS waiting lists, police shortages and “never being on time”.

In an interview, Forbes rejected such criticism, saying she was “very proud of the SNP’s track record” and insisting “everyone agrees” on the need for NHS reform.

Forbes also backed away from complaints about members of his campaign and the party’s handling of the leadership election by third-party candidate and former Homeland Security Secretary Ash Reagan.

SNP MSP and Forbes supporter Michelle Thomson told the BBC this week that she had written to the party’s national secretary about “concerns” about the ballot and that she should appoint a third-party auditor to oversee the vote.

But in an apparent attempt to mend relations with the party establishment, Forbes said she has “absolute faith” in the election process and that her campaign only wants transparency so others feel the same. “I have no worries about the process,” she said.

Under pressure from all three candidates for greater transparency about its membership, the SNP said on Thursday that 72,186 people were eligible to vote for its leader – 30,000 less than it claimed at the start of the campaign.

Forbes said the SNP owed Peter Murrell, the party’s long-serving chief executive and Sturgeon’s husband, a “debt of gratitude” for past election victories. But she left open whether Murrell should remain in office if she is elected, saying it “should be her decision and not mine”.

Forbes’ campaign began almost at its founding when the deeply religious finance secretary sparked widespread condemnation from SNP colleagues by saying she would have voted against gay marriage if she had been in parliament in 2014.

But she said people appreciated her openness. “Many people will say that they fundamentally disagree with my views but they are longing for an honest politician.”

Forbes declared a clear victory on 27 March that the Scottish Government’s economic policy would change tone, focusing more on wealth creation than the social spending and redistribution emphasized by Sturgeon.

She said her policy would be based on a “triangle” of infrastructure investment, reducing the regulatory burden on Scottish businesses and promoting “competitive” tax promotions.

Wealthier Scots currently pay slightly higher income tax than counterparts elsewhere in the UK. Forbes said there was little evidence yet that higher rates had hurt the Scottish economy, but the issue should be kept “under careful review”.

“As far as Scotland is devolved, I think we need to be really careful with over-divergence,” she said.

Forbes also indicated that he would be more supportive than Sturgeon of the fossil fuel industry concentrated in north-east Scotland.

While energy policy is largely reserved for the UK government, in January the SNP administration called for a “presumption against new exploration for oil and gas”.

“I’m very concerned that when we transition to renewables and away from oil and gas, we don’t lose all the jobs, all the investment, all the infrastructure, all the resources,” Forbes said. “For me, it’s about speed and not moving too fast.”

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