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Following in JFK’s footsteps

Kate Forbes: hounded for her faith. Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Alamy

“Why did Kate Forbes do it?” wonders Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. After years in frontline politics, the “smartest woman in Holyrood” must have been aware of the inevitable backlash she’d face by declaring her opposition to gay marriage. “Yet she did so anyway: immediately, almost proudly.” Even though she emphasised that she wouldn’t try to change the law, Forbes was denounced as a bigot and her backers in the SNP leadership race peeled away. Callers told a BBC Radio phone-in they’d feel “unsafe” with her in power; one even compared her with the Taliban. She appears to have torched not just her campaign, but likely her political career. “Why?”

I have a theory: “to expose the bigotry that religious politicians now face”. In a way, Forbes being hounded over her personal worldview is a “return to the old days”. For centuries, we had Test Acts that forced anyone in public life – even teachers – to swear allegiance to Protestant beliefs, to keep nonconformists like Jews and Catholics out of the picture. When John F Kennedy ran to be US president, many argued his Catholicism should disqualify him for the top job. Like Forbes, he decided to tackle it head-on, speaking to a group of Protestants in Houston in a speech hailed as a “template for religious tolerance in a democracy”. He asked to be judged only on what kind of America he believed in. “What kind of church I believe in,” he said, “should be important only to me.” His words ended the debate – and, it was felt at the time, the era where any candidate’s religion was a bar to political progress. As Forbes has discovered, apparently not.