AT Fort William, on the north-eastern shores of Loch Linnhe where a lukewarm sun is being menaced by delinquent showers, Kate Forbes is the essence of tranquillity. The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch has driven one and half hours from her home in Dingwall.

On another day, she’ll make an 11-hour round trip to the island of Rum to solicit the views of its 40 inhabitants. Earlier, she’d been perched on a hill at Laggan, near Newtonmore, to open a mountain biking facility. On the 40-mile drive from there to Fort William she’s giving me a crash course in the unique demands of this sprawling land of the mountain and the flood.

It’s exactly six months since she lost to Humza Yousaf in a contest to lead the country. Even by the roughhouse snap and crackle of such engagements this one seemed relentlessly pitiless.

In a tumultuous, six-week campaign Ms Forbes’ faith; her church; and her personal values were scorned and derided.

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Yet, in her first significant interview since losing narrowly to Mr Yousaf, the former Finance Secretary has – in the best traditions of her Christian faith – chosen to turn the other cheek. Mr Yousaf won “fairly and squarely”. She’s happy to work from the backbenches to “support his leadership and to help him be returned as First Minister in 2026”. Nor does she have any desire to be a focal point for malcontents.

And besides, Ms Forbes has weaponised kindness. “I take delight in being civil, warm and unmissable to everyone. I think there’s way too much sensitivity in politics. Turning it into a strength is more fun.

“Whatever they might say about you they’ll always find it difficult to say to your face when you are thanking them for their service or appreciating something that they’ve done. And so long as you find your core identity and your strength in other ways they can’t hurt you.”

Yet, in the course of the next two hours Ms Forbes elegantly and forensically dismantles large chunks of her party’s policy agenda in education, green energy, its attitude to the Highlands and Islands and its purported commitment to tolerance and diversity. And all of it wrapped up in the language of reconciliation, forgiveness and unity of purpose. There are no names and no specific accusations. Who knew that the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli held such sway in the glens?

She struggles to conceal her resentment at how her beloved Highlands have been neglected by what she sees as an obsession with imposing one-size-fits-all policies. “If you asked any Highlander they’d view this place as an entity before they see Scotland as an entity,” she says. “For centuries, people here have been denied democratic representation because they lived in an area where land ownership was and political power were one and the same.

“The situation in Mallaig is very different from that in Fort William. The needs of Dingwall and Glenfinnan are very different again.”

Was this at the heart of the move to suspend Fergus Ewing? The SNP grandee and former minister has been cast out for, among other things, choosing the concerns of his Highland constituents over some party policies.

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“Fergus used to represent many of my communities and so did his late and much-loved mother, Winnie. I recall the first time I went to visit some of the fishing communities in Mallaig and, to a person, they all had a story about Winnie Ewing. So that DNA goes really deep. The other thing is that policies are never black and white and I’m talking specifically about the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs).

“The irony of that policy is that every fisherman I’ve spoken with cares more about sustainable fishing than most politicians and civil servants. They don’t just see it as a job. They see it as a multi-generational way of life. If there are no fish then their kids don’t have a future.

“And that’s why the language particularly used by fishermen around the island of Tiree was to equate HPMAs with education. If you ban fishing and I lose my job, then we have to leave and the school closes.

“Once you lose a school you lose all the prospective families that might come to an area. If you’re trying to attract families to the local area the first question they’re asking is where the local school is. If there’s no school, they’re more likely to settle elsewhere.

“I think that’s why policy issues in the Highlands go straight to the heart perhaps faster than anywhere else. Education in other parts of Scotland may be more of an intellectual question. In the Highlands it’s about their future, it’s about community; it’s about families.

“It’s in my family’s memory. My family are from Applecross and they were all cleared to the fringes where crofts were designed basically to starve you out of existence. So, they all moved to Glasgow where my grandfather became a ship’s carpenter.”

Ms Forbes is a graduate of both Oxford and Edinburgh Universities, inspired by her grandmother who, while living in a tenement slum walked each day along Great Western Road from Clydebank to Hillhead to save money to put herself through university. There, out of embarrassment, she would eat her daily one slice of bread in the toilets.

She’s scornful of a middle-class elitism which thinks that you close the educational attainment gap by making it easier for everyone by doing away with algebra and classic literature and dismantling the exams system. She views this as addressing disadvantage by putting working-class children at further disadvantage in the race for jobs and university places.

“There’s no reason why children irrespective of their background can’t reach the same levels,” she says. “The attainment gap is found obviously in a child’s experience of school. But it’s also found in the investment and focus that we make in ensuring that child can go through school and achieve with the right qualifications; the right knowledge and the right skills.

“I think there’s a risk in our public discourse about the attainment gap; about thinking we need to make education simpler and easier in order to ensure everyone is achieving the same.

“The opposite is true. Our education system should be about hard work and based on aspiration and ambition. It should realise that we are competing with India; with Japan; with Denmark. Until you do that, I don’t think you can close the attainment gap. It’s the only route out of poverty that works.”

But what about those children who are starting their day three goals down: beset by hunger, addiction and chaotic family circumstances?

“On the basis that they’re hungry, so feed them,” she says. “On the basis that they’re coming from a chaotic family background, so show them love and care and show them that they’re valued. My point being that that child is in terms of their own natural intellect and ability no more disadvantaged than a child that comes from a more stable home.

“We need to invest in stretching a child’s knowledge and ensuring that they believe that they can achieve anything they set their minds to, not dumb down their educational experience.”

She addresses her personal dilemma in being alive to the sustainability of her Highland constituents and her wider concerns about extracting fossil fuels.

“It’s not fair to gaslight communities for not caring enough about global warming. We risk making a just transition unjust. To my mind it must reduce inequalities rather than enlarge them. My fear is that most of the policies I see being defended on the basis of climate change will exacerbate inequalities rather than shrink them.

“Anything that assumes that a normal, ordinary family can fork out for a new car; can afford new heating systems or have a home that lends itself to having an EV charger exacerbates rather than reduces inequality. This exercises the minds of every Highlander. It’s our renewables that are being delivered to consumers elsewhere in Scotland, and yet we have astronomically high levels of fuel poverty. And that leads to bad health outcomes – as well as being a disgrace.

“Do I think we should be extracting more fossil fuels? No. But until you can show me all the renewables jobs that will replace the oil and gas jobs then, I ask you, where is the offshore worker in Corpach going to go?

The other unfortunate part in all of this is that the money required to invest in the Just Transition is far too big for any government to afford. So, basically, we need oil and gas in order to invest in Just Transition at levels never seen before.”

TOMORROW:The trouble with the Scottish Greens and why ordinary Scots value diversity and tolerance more than politicians.