Forbes weathers morality backlash to head poll
Kate Forbes remains the favourite to become the next SNP leader in a poll suggesting she has escaped too much damage from the controversy over her standpoint on moral issues.
A survey of SNP voters between Monday and Wednesday this week puts the Finance Secretary on 28%, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf on 20% and former Safety minister Ash Regan on 7%. Only 5% of SNP voters think the new leader’s faith or personal beliefs are important.
The results of the survey organised by The Big Partnership PR agency and conducted online by Opinion Matters, are not too dissimilar to the findings of an IPOS poll last Friday – before Ms Forbes expressed her views on same-sex marriage. That poll showed 31% of Scottish adults favouring Ms Forbes, against 20% for Mr Yousaf.
However, the BIG Partnership poll of over 1,001 Scottish adults who voted SNP at the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, also reveals that 31% do not yet know who they will support.
The survey results follow a stormy first week of campaigning dominated by Ms Forbes’ statements opposing same-sex marriage, confirming her opposition to the gender reform bill and saying couples should not have sex outside marriage. A number of her erstwhile allies said her views meant they could no longer support her.
Ms Forbes, a member of the socially conservative, evangelical Free Church of Scotland, attempted to reset her campaign by apologising on social media for any hurt caused.
In a tweet ahead of yesterday’s First Minister’s Questions, Ms Forbes said she felt “greatly burdened and heartsore that some of my responses to direct questions in the media have caused hurt to friends, colleagues and fellow citizens,” and she had listened carefully to the response.
Nicola Sturgeon has stated that she will not express a preference for who will succeed her, but she did say that “Scotland is a socially progressive country and… whoever is First Minister, the views that they have on all sorts of issues matter because people look to their first minister to see someone who will stand up for them and their rights.”
In an attempt to salvage her campaign, Ms Forbes has said she will switch the focus of her campaign from personal beliefs to policy issues, particularly growing the economy.
However, she is seen to be on course for a clash with the SNP’s Green Party partners who support more investment in public services.
The third candidate, Ms Regan, who resigned from the Scottish government in protest at the gender recognition reform bill, is expected to launch her campaign today (Friday). She has stated her “firm support” for equal marriage.
The Big poll also shows that most SNP voters surveyed (61%) want to see a referendum on Scottish independence at some point within the next two years, while three-quarters of SNP voters (75%) want to see a referendum within the next five years.
The cost-of-living crisis (58%), growing Scotland’s economy (53%), and improving health, education and other public services (53%) topped the list of priorities above independence.
As an indication of the uphill battle facing other parties, support for the SNP among its 2021 voters remains strong, with only 12% of SNP voters surveyed indicating they are somewhat or very unlikely to vote SNP on their second vote now that Nicola Sturgeon is no longer SNP leader.
Commenting on the results, Paul Robertson, head of public affairs at the BIG Partnership said: “Our poll indicates that SNP voters want to judge the candidates on their plans for the bread-and-butter issues of government – tackling the cost-of-living crisis, growing the economy and improving public services.
“These are the issues which our poll shows SNP voters think are most important, whilst questions of faith and personal belief, which have dominated the headlines, are relatively unimportant for those choosing the new leader.
“Neither is it surprising to see SNP voters impatient for a referendum – almost three quarters want a new referendum in the next two years.
“But when considering the top priorities for a new First Minister, SNP voters seem to acknowledge that it is current issues like the health service, the cost-of-living, and the economy that should come first.
“This poses a challenge for leadership contenders who will be expected to have a clear plan to deliver a referendum, whilst also demonstrating they can address these key issues of government.”
Campaign manager for Humza Yousaf, Neil Gray, said: “This poll leaves party members in no doubt that the momentum is firmly with Humza and his progressive vision for Scotland.
“Since launching his campaign, Humza has narrowed the gap significantly. We now have four weeks to speak with party members across the country about why Humza’s plan to tackle the cost of living crisis head on and support working families makes him the top candidate to become Scotland’s next First Minister.
“As the most experienced runner in this race, Humza will unite our movement and use the spirit of hope, belief and inclusivity, galvanised in 2014, to build the fairer and more equal independent Scotland that we know is possible.”