LGBT activists warn the party they will 'walk' as SNP close off hustings

LGBT activists within the SNP have warned they could “walk” away from the party should it not take social issues seriously as the leadership campaign continues to be dogged by infighting.

The party shut off their latest hustings event to the public, reigniting a row over transparency which sparked last week after the SNP initially insisted all hustings should be held in private to allow members a “safe space”.

However, despite the private environment, The Scotsman was leaked comments involving members underlining the divisions in the party over social issues.

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It follows warnings that the party could potentially split over equality issues from MSPs in the first week of the leadership campaign following Kate Forbes’ comments that she would not have voted for equal marriage

(left to right) Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf taking part in the SNP leadership hustings at Eden Court, Inverness.(left to right) Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf taking part in the SNP leadership hustings at Eden Court, Inverness.
(left to right) Ash Regan, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf taking part in the SNP leadership hustings at Eden Court, Inverness.

Both Humza Yousaf and Ms Forbes used the weekend as an opportunity to move further away from social issues, with the health secretary concentrating on independence and Ms Forbes on the economy.

Ash Regan, the third candidate in the race to become the First Minister, also appeared on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg and was pressed about her independence plans.

However the online hustings were characterised by infighting between members in the comments section over equality issues.

One conversation saw members complain LGBT issues, or “the sexual equality thing”, “has had lots of attention”, adding it is “time to move back to working class issues and independence.”

Another comment said: “Yes, we hear you ALL the time. Other issues that need addressing too.”

A further comment, which received significant pushback, showed a member stating they “always supported LGBTQ rights”, before adding “remember you are a small percentage of the population and there [sic] many other issues to deal with”.

One member pleaded with the organisers of the hustings to turn the comments off, such were their contents, labelling them “embarrassing”.

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One activist said they would “walk” away from the party if the leadership candidates did not take LGBT rights seriously.

They told The Scotsman: “The SNP has made so much progress for LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Now you want to roll this back?

"The candidates need to realise that this is a very serious issue, LGBT people exist in all of our societies, in the NHS for example, and we feel threatened in the membership.

"They need to acknowledge us, they need to remember us, you can’t just say the media is doing this when you are getting multiple people saying put your concerns aside and think about independence.”

They added: "We want to make an independent Scotland as fair and equal for all of us, and if we are just getting independence for independence sake, then we are just repeating the same mistakes as Westminster.

"If the candidates do not acknowledge this and roll back our progressive rights, we will walk.”

The concerns from SNP activists was also amplified by the “disappointing” lack of a response by Ms Forbes or Ms Regan to a letter sent by End Conversion Therapy Scotland. Only Mr Yousaf had responded, committing himself to a full ban.

Opposition parties criticised the decision for the hustings to be held in secret, with Scottish Labour’s Ian Murray calling it a “grossly undemocratic move”, demanding a u-turn and an end to “this indefensible secrecy”.

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Craig Hoy, the Scottish Conservative chairman, said the SNP had “reverted to their habitual secrecy and lack of accountability”, accusing them of only caring about “outdoing each other on their obsession with independence.”

An SNP spokesperson failed to provide an explanation for the behind closed doors approach, but said: "All in-person hustings will be lived streamed - the next of which is tomorrow, 7pm, in Dumfries."

Earlier on Sunday, Ms Forbes used an appearance on the BBC’s Sunday Show, to blame the media for the continued interest in her views on social issues.

Under questioning from the BBC’s Martin Geissler, the finance secretary appeared to blame the media and journalists for repeated questions on the matter when the BBC journalist suggested her views would create “big problems for you”.

"Mostly because journalists want to keep going back to those problems,” she said.

"I’ve answered those questions comprehensively and I would appeal to people to recognise that in the last few years I have served all of Scotland’s people faithfully and that would be my commitment to going forward.”

She had previously pointed to her record as finance secretary and as an MSP, stating: “Look at my track record of six years on the front line, serving constituents...being relected on two occasions with an increased share of the SNP vote, delivering budgets that don’t make any distinction but serve all of Scotland’s people.

"If you can trust me to deliver a national budget, I think you can trust me to make policy that serves all of Scotland.”

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In an attempt to further differentiate herself from Mr Yousaf, widely accepted as the establishment candidate, Ms Forbes said continuity “won’t cut it” for the SNP following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon.

“Keep doing the same things, you’re going to get the same results, and that’s why I think we need a fundamental shift,” she said.

Ms Forbes said she would seek to invest in small businesses, giving them “breathing space” to help grow the economy, and added that competency in government could lead to increased support for Scottish independence.

“To do that, they need a leader with the competence and the experience of delivery,” she added.

Asked if she believes Ms Sturgeon and Alex Salmond were both viewed as competent, Ms Forbes said: “Absolutely, but we need a new leader for a new decade and that new leader needs to have a particular focus and experience and desire to eradicate poverty through economic prosperity.

“We’re at a moment in time and I think I’m the leader who has that competence and that track record of delivery.”

Ms Regan, speaking on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, said her plan would be “clearly set out” ahead of voters going to the polls

“People in Scotland would know what they were voting for was to get the government in Edinburgh and the government in Westminster together to negotiate Scotland’s exit,” she said.

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“Scotland would be very clear on what they were voting for, the UK would be very clear on what Scotland was voting for, and the international community would be very clear about what Scotland is voting for.

“I don’t think there’s any question of the UK Government not recognising Scotland’s democratic choice.”

Mr Yousaf also repeated his plans to hold “independence campaign workshops” for party members as part of his pitch to become the “first activist”.

He also pledged the creation of a “round-the-clock rebuttal service” to counter what he described as “disinformation” from opposition parties and a “root and branch” overhaul of independence campaigning materials.

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