PEOPLE of faith will be reluctant to enter politics in the wake of attacks on Kate Forbes over her moral views, the Catholic Church has warned.

In a dramatic intervention, the church's spokesman in Scotland Peter Kearney said political parties had helped foster a culture of intolerance towards people's "religious orientations".

It came as one of the country's most prominent historians Sir Tom Devine said Ms Forbes should be praised for her "steadfast personal commitment" to her principles as a backlash began against criticisms of the finance secretary.

Ms Forbes, who is standing to become SNP leader and First Minister after Nicola Sturgeon last week announced she was standing down from the roles, has come under intense fire from figures within her party after saying she would not have voted for same sex marriage had she been an MSP in 2014.

The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch has also said she does not support self-identification for transgender people and would not legally challenge the UK Government's veto on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, passed in Holyrood in December.

READ MORE: SNP contender calls for end to 'mudslinging' as race turn toxic

In an interview on Tuesday she said having children outside of marriage “would be wrong according to my faith.”

The comments - particularly those on same-sex marriage - led to a number of her backers quitting the campaign, including employment minister Richard Lochhead, public finance minister Tom Arthur, and children’s minister Clare Haughey.

The devout member of the Free Church of Scotland has also faced calls for her suspension and to quit the contest. She faces rival candidates health secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan in the SNP race.

Speaking exclusively to The Herald - as some MSPs began to distance themselves from the attacks on Ms Forbes - Mr Kearney cited the refusal of the SNP, Labour, Greens and Lib Dems to allow their MSPs to vote according to their conscience on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. The Conservatives offered their MSPs a free vote on the legislation with some of the party's MSPs voting for the reforms while the party opposed them.

"The political parties should have allowed a free vote on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. It is a very obvious example of a contentious moral issue," he said.

"The danger here of not allowing individuals to vote according to their conscience is that it will dramatically reduce the pool of people who want to go into parliament. People will believe their views won't be respected. We run the risk of denying ourselves people with talent and ability.

"In our pursuit of diversity we have embraced conformity. There is absolutely an intolerance of certain types of difference. We are less tolerant of people's religious orientations. Some of the things that have been said about religious opinions leave a lot of Catholics and a lot of Christians feeling marginalised."

READ MORE: Swinney: SNP must consider if Forbes would be an 'appropriate' leader

He said a poll by one Scottish Catholic group found 80 per cent of people responding found the debate over Ms Forbes' views made them feel more marginalised.

"We do have evidence that this debate is leaving people feeling very very uncomfortable," he stated, pointing out the teaching of the Catholic Church is opposed to abortion and same sex marriage. 

He added: "It’s difficult to imagine anyone entering elected politics who didn’t have 'deeply held views', whether they are economic, social, environmental or religious views shouldn’t matter. What matters is that they don’t impose those views on others, but instead respect differences.

"Previously this was possible by political parties allowing certain moral matters such as: abortion, same sex marriage and assisted suicide, to be treated as matters of conscience, where parliamentarians were permitted to vote freely in accordance with their conscience. This was an example of tolerance, sadly it has given way to conformity in politics.

"Human rights law describes certain “protected characteristics” among them: race, gender and sexual orientation, which cannot be used as a basis for discrimination.

"It is important that we remember religion is also a protected characteristic, deserving of respect.

READ MORE: Call for Kate Forbes to quit SNP contest as row deepens

"If someone was deemed unsuited to office on the basis of any other protected characteristic there would, quite rightly, be outraged and indignant reactions. As a society we will be guilty of hypocrisy if we don’t defend everyone’s right to freely hold, manifest and express their religious beliefs."

The Free Church of Scotland also intervened, accusing opponents of Ms Forbes of "anti-Christian intolerance."

Sir Tom, pictured below, professor emeritus of history at Edinburgh University, took issue over the attacks on Ms Forbes', one of his former students, praising her "courage" for speaking openly about her faith and moral beliefs.


"She deserves our respect for her courage, integrity and steadfast personal commitment to her own religious and moral principles. How unique is that in the often craven world of modern  politics?" he said.

"In the past few days this able young woman has been crucified in the media by an almost hysterical and even possibly orchestrated chorus of condemnation by some so called ‘progressives’ in the higher echelons of the SNP and the Green Party for, most unusually and refreshingly in today’s world, having the guts to speak her mind on major issues which concern us all as humans."

He added: "This [has] undeniably now become a historic and watershed case  for our country. If Kate Forbes is hounded out of the opportunity to obtain  high office in our country because of her personal beliefs we can no longer been seen as a tolerant and progressive nation.

"I contend also that the SNP will  pay a terrible electoral price in the future if that was to happen."

Meanwhile, Ms Regan, who quit as a minister over gender reforms, put out "a call for calm”, and reminded colleagues they would have to work together after the race ended.

Other SNP MSPs also came to Ms Forbes' defence even while pointing out they disagreed with her moral opinions.

READ MORE: Greens may exit SNP deal if Kate Forbes becomes FM prompting election

SNP MSP Christine Ms Grahame told ITV Border: “Let me say this: I’m an atheist, I’m left-wing, I support GRR and I support equal marriage. But I defend her [Ms Forbes’] right to have a conscience.

“And I think that to say things about her, because her religion gives her certain views which she doesn’t impose on anybody else, is absolutely wrong. I like a democratic society where everyone is entitled to express their conscience. I’m probably the last person you would think would defend it, but there we are.

“As long as they’re not imposing these [views] on other people, and she has said she would not do that. What is concerning me is it’s a bit of a witch hunt.”

Perthshire MSP Jim Fairlie also defended Ms Forbes, despite disagreeing with her.

He wrote on Twitter: “If I am asked about my views on the issues of same sex marriage or a woman's right to choose, I will defend them unequivocally without hesitation.  I have two wonderful daughters, both born out of wedlock and both now adults with their own views.

“On these points Kate Forbes and I fundamentally disagree, but what we both agree on is that we are both committed to defending those rights, therefore we must also defend the right of religious belief. " He added "some of the rhetoric around the fact that Kate has been honest has been appalling."

Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who has declined to enter the contest, said he “profoundly disagrees” with Ms Forbes on gay marriage and SNP members need to think if someone with her views would be an “appropriate” leader. Asked about the race's fallout, Mr Swinney told the BBC the debate around Ms Forbes’ position had “absolutely nothing” to do with her faith.

He said: “I’m a man of deep Christian faith, but I don’t hold the same views as Kate has set out in the course of the last couple of days. I think it’s been unhelpful that the debate has been focused on the question of faith, because in my view it’s got nothing to do with faith."

Ross Greer,  the Scottish Greens MSP, said: "This debate certainly should not put people of faith off from running for office. The Prime Minister is a practising Hindu, Humza Yousaf is a practising Muslim and I am a practising Christian. The issue isn't faith, it's whether you would support equality under the law."

The Scottish Tories said Ms Regan's call for a truce showed how “toxic” the splits had become. The SNP, Labour, Lib Dems were approached for comment.

Ms Forbes's campaign manager Ivan McKee told STV they both recognise the hurt caused by her comments and that was something she wanted to address.

Mr Yousaf, a practising Muslim, sought yesterday to put further distance between himself and Ms Forbes by saying he would not legislate on the basis of his faith.

He told Times Radio: “The crux of the issue is whether you use your faith as a basis by which to legislate as a leader, that’s a choice we have to make.

“I couldn’t come on the programme in all sincerity and tell you I am able to change what Islam says about gay marriage or gay sex.

“But the question is do people use the basis of their faith when legislating? I haven’t done so, I wouldn’t do so because I don’t believe that is the job of legislators and policy makers.

“I believe in a Scotland that celebrates differences, celebrates diversities, celebrates equality. I have been a minority my whole life in this country , I know my rights are interdependent on everybody else’s rights.”