THE biggest problem for Kate Forbes if she does become First Minister is that she will forever, constantly, persistently, over and over again, be asked about gay rights and abortion and that is how it should be. We need certainty, not equivocation.

However, being cautious about exactly how to make new laws on human rights is something else entirely. Scots need to have confidence their leader will passionately fight the battles on human rights that are yet to come – and Ms Forbes doesn’t pass that test. But they should also have confidence that their leader will make effective laws and the Scottish Government’s record on this is Not Good.

Mark Smith: The conditioning of the Scottish nationalist mind

So, when it comes to the stushie the other day involving Ms Forbes and the co-leader of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, I find myself inclined towards Ms Forbes. In some ways, this is surprising – I don’t like Ms Forbes’s swervy-wervy approach on subjects like gay marriage – but in other ways it’s not surprising at all because I tend, pretty much always, to side with whoever is disagreeing with Mr Harvie. He’s like a barometer you can check every day to see what the wrong opinion is.

The particular subject causing the problem this time was conversion therapy. Asked if a gay adult man should be allowed such therapy, Ms Forbes said: "Well, it's his choice, but I do not think we should allow conversion therapy.” This provoked a backlash on social media, but then what doesn’t, dear boy?

The next thing that happened is Mr Harvie, having promised not to intervene in the SNP leadership race, intervened in the SNP leadership race by saying that anti-LGBTQ+ conversion practices were abhorrent and anyone who argues people should be able to consent to them is failing to understand the issue. He believed in a “watertight ban” on all conversion practices, he said.

I am very sympathetic to the aim here I must say, having spoken to people who’ve undergone conversion practices. People like student Blair Anderson who told me of the attempts to make him straight after his religious family discovered he was gay. He had nightmares. He felt suicidal. His relationship with his family broke down. And, of course, it didn’t work because you can’t change a person’s sexuality.

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But I also remember talking to Blair about what exactly conversion therapy is because it’s not the easiest to define. For example, someone might seek support on their sexuality from a faith leader and Blair was broadly supportive of that, but he also said that helping someone to live within the rules of their religion can cross over into conversion. The question is: when?

The same applies, and possibly more so, to trans conversion therapy. If a young person has questions or doubts about their gender, their teachers, parents, friends, family, therapists, whoever, need to be able to talk to them about it, question them about it, and help them work out what’s going on. But again, there’s a concern that, at some point, the support crosses over into conversion therapy and again the question is: when?

If Ms Forbes is hesitating for any of these reasons, then she’s right to because any law on conversion therapy needs to address the grey areas. An NHS report last year said some healthcare professionals feel under pressure to take a purely affirmative approach to young people who say they want to transition and that’s probably because the professionals are unclear what is legitimate questioning and what is conversion.

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Any new law in Scotland, under Kate Forbes or anyone else, needs to address this problem before it can proceed. Mr Harvie says he wants a “watertight ban” but that’s only possible if there is a watertight definition of conversion therapy. And we’ve been here before haven’t we? Scottish bills based on poor definitions of what they’re supposed to be tackling lead to trouble because vagueness is the enemy of good law.

And in the end we have no idea if the Scottish law will actually happen. Ms Forbes’s commitment to it seems half-hearted and the Greens seem willing to leave government if they don’t get a commitment to it. But whatever happens, it needs to be good, and clear, and well-drafted. For the sake of good government, and for the sake of young people who are coming to terms with who they are.