Muslim leaders praise Forbes and snub Yousaf in SNP contest statement

26th February

Exclusive by Kathleen Nutt@kacnuttPolitical Correspondent

SCOTLAND’S Muslim leaders have intervened in the SNP leadership race describing the debate around religious beliefs as “deeply concerning”.

In a strongly worded statement, released tonight, the Scottish Association of Mosques revealed it would not be endorsing any of the three candidates although it appeared to praise Kate Forbes for ‘openly talking’ about her faith following a series of interviews she has given on the issue.

Finance Secretary Ms Forbes, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan are standing to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as SNP leader and First Minister following the announcement she is stepping down from the roles.

The first week of the campaign was dominated by the candidates’ views on social issues with Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, attacked by critics in her party after she said she would have voted against same sex marriage had she been an MSP in 2014. She also said that her faith means having children outside of marriage is “wrong” and something she personally would “seek to avoid”.

READ MORE: Kate Forbes to unveil £800m plan to tackle cost of living

The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch also made clear she had concerns over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill which went through Holyrood while she was on maternity leave. The legislation, which makes it easier for people to change their legal gender, has been blocked by the UK Government with Ms Sturgeon planning to make a legal challenge against the veto.

Both Ms Forbes and Ms Regan have indicated they will not pursue court action with only Mr Yousaf prepared to follow the First Minister’s planned action.

Mr Yousaf, a practising Muslim, also came under intense scrutiny on the issue of equal marriage – rejecting claims by his former boss that he asked to skip Holyrood’s gay marriage vote because “of pressure he was under from the mosque.” He accused Alex Neil – a supporter of main rival Ms Forbes – of trying to “destabilise” his campaign.

The Herald reported on Friday claims from the SNP stalwart that Mr Yousaf had arranged a ministerial meeting 19 days in advance of the stage 3 vote as “cover” having voted for the principles of the bill at its first parliamentary stage.

“The contest to become leader of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland comes at a critical time,” said the statement from the Scottish Association of Mosques, an organisation composed of the country’s most senior Imams. 

“Whoever is eventually chosen to lead will shape the future of our country and help to deliver the shared vision we all hold for Scotland, a fair and just society for all. The burden of responsibility our political leaders carry is a heavy one.

“What they say very often sets the tone and tenor of public opinion and debate. The tone of the debate around religious beliefs, in the context of the SNP leadership race is deeply concerning. “Some of those beliefs in question are beliefs that Muslims also share.”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon blamed for ‘weak’ line up in SNP leadership race

It went onto say that Muslims “believe marriage is a sacred institution and that marriage is between a man and a woman”.

It added: “We believe in modesty and sexual relations within the boundaries of marriage. We believe that gender is binary and irrevocably linked to sex. That life is our greatest gift and to be protected. These are our beliefs and we hold fast to them.”

While the statement did not name Ms Forbes it went on to apparently praise her for talking openly about her faith and moral beliefs and raised concerns there were people of the view that only people with secular views on life are fit for political leadership.

“It is refreshing to hear a political leader talk about their religious values and principles, in an open and transparent way. This can only help to build trust with the public who so often feel distant from, or alienated by, political discourse,” it said.

“It has been disappointing, however, to hear from some quarters that holding and/or expressing religious values, deem an individual as unfit for leadership. What message does that send to faith communities, or to young people of faith?

“That their beliefs create a glass ceiling for them or that they don’t belong? Or that a ‘sword of Damocles’ dangles above their head despite their hard work, talent and competency?”

It added: “This rhetoric is diametrically opposite to the assurances given to faith communities over the years that freedom of religion would be upheld in the fullest sense. Particularly as it is an inclusive and tolerant meritocracy we are all striving to build in Scotland.

“Our future First Minister has a crucial role to play in creating a better future for all of us. We hope that the focus of the leadership race now moves on to everyday issues that affect all Scots, such as education, the cost of living, social mobility, supporting our young people, tackling hate crime, healthcare and much more.

“We look forward to hearing of the candidates’ values, their vision, their plan, and of robust and costed policies. These more so than just a shared identity or political ideology, will help to build a fair, just, and equitable Scotland for all members of society, regardless of their background or beliefs.”

The Scottish Association of Mosques is the latest religious organisation to criticise the SNP’s leadership race.

Last week, Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church said many Catholics were feeling marginalised and uncomfortable in the wake of the attacks on Ms Forbes over her moral views.

Campaigning in Dundee today Mr Yousaf was asked about Mr Neil claiming he did not have the “backbone” for the top job and that he avoided a vote on equal marriage in 2014 due to pressure from his mosque.

Mr Yousaf has denied this and said he could not attend the stage-three vote because of an “unavoidable meeting” regarding a Scot who was on death row in Pakistan.

He said: “My views have never changed. I’ve always been in support of equal marriage.”

Nominations in the race to replace Ms Sturgeon closed on Friday, with the vote taking place until March 27.

The three candidates’ teams and the SNP were approached for comment.


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