SNP race: Humza Yousaf ‘clear favourite’ to replace Nicola Sturgeon after Kate Forbes equal marriage controversy
Health minister Humza Yousaf has gained an advantage in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon after Kate Forbes was forced to apologise for her comments on equal marriage.
Yousaf, who has emerged as the continuity candidate after Sturgeon’s sudden resignation announcement last week, has vowed he will “always fight for the equal rights of others”.
He said: “I believe very firmly, in fact with every fibre in my being, that your equality is my equality, therefore I’ll always fight for the equal rights of others regardless of who they are.”
SNP veteran Angus Robertson ruled himself out of the race this week while ex-communities minister Ash Regan, who quit in opposition to Sturgeon’s gender reforms, is also running.
It comes as bookies at William Hill have said Yousaf is now the “outright favourite” to take on the top job, with 4/9 odds up from a 10/1 shot last week, and Forbes and Regan on 9/4 and 9/2.
Yousaf’s pledge came after fellow contender Forbes, Scotland’s finance secretary, said she would have voted against gay marriage if she was elected when the bill passed in 2014.
Social conservative Forbes, a Free Church of Scotland member, apologised for her remarks, telling Times Radio: “I regret enormously the pain or hurt that has been caused because that was neither my intention, and I would seek forgiveness if that is how it’s come across.”
She said she defended the rights of LGBT+ people to live “free of harassment, fear and prejudice” but insisted her campaign was “absolutely not over” despite the backlash.
Forbes also told BBC Scotland she had “significant concerns” about gender self-ID, describing the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill, which would make it easier for people to change their legal gender and has been blocked from becoming law by the UK government, as “not a priority right now” for Scotland.
Yousaf has promised to back the bill and challenge the section 35 order seeking to block the legislation, which he said was an “attempt to undermine” Holyrood and “stoke a culture war”.
However, following her remarks on equal marriage Forbes’ candidacy began to lose support, including public finance minister Tom Arthur – in her own department – who said he could no longer back her
“Equal marriage is amongst our parliament’s greatest achievements and one that I would have been proud to vote for had I been an MSP when it was passed,” he wrote on Twitter.
No10 said Rishi Sunak was “hugely proud” of the UK being a diverse and tolerant country.
On Forbes’ views, his official spokesman said: “It’s fundamentally a decision for members of political parties to decide who leads them. That’s not something I’m going to comment on.”