As I See It: Terry Murden
As one political career implodes another looks like it is about to bloom. By delivering the Scottish Budget with a confident swagger, Kate Forbes’ not only lifted the spirits of a party badly deflated by the shock resignation of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, she also put herself firmly in the frame to succeed him.
Until Wednesday evening Mr Mackay was regarded as the most likely heir to Nicola Sturgeon’s crown, a leader in waiting who had worked his way up from a difficult young home life and through the ranks of local government.
After his town hall shift in Paisley, rising to become leader of Renfrewshire Council, he began moving through the gears of government and was just one last step away from the top political job in the country.
Then came that phone call from the Scottish Sun and a quick realisation that his lifelong dreams had been cut short by what he described as his own foolishness.
The suddenness and shocking nature of his fall will make his removal from office, suspension from the party and almost certain resignation as an MSP all the more painful. Those 270 text messages to a 16 year old boy have cost him his career at a relatively young age. At 42, it’s difficult to know where he goes from here.
These are troubling times for the SNP. Following its landslide success at the General Election, followed by a rising tide of support for independence, Nicola Sturgeon is in full crisis mode and will want the party to get through this crisis quickly, notwithstanding another storm about to break when Alex Salmond appears in court on sex charges next month.
As for Ms Forbes, she took to the task like a veteran, delivering what one MSP described as a feisty performance. At 29 the Highlander was elected for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch less than four years ago and has already emerged as an able Public Finance and Digital Economy minister, throwing herself into the brief and earning the sort of respect from the business community that was afforded to John Swinney while at enterprise.
Having been told she was to make the Budget statement with just a few hours notice she would have been forgiven any hesitancy, or lack of familiarity with details. Instead, she was strident and in control, both in her delivery of the statement itself and in her response to questions.
As the near-two hour presentation and debate concluded she sat down to a round of applause and a pat on the shoulder from Nicola Sturgeon who surely won’t waste too much time in promoting her into one of the biggest jobs at Holyrood. It may be written in the stars that she was destined for the job, given that her birthday – 6 April – is the first day of the financial year.
Forbes was born in Dingwall, spending some of her early years in India with her father who provided healthcare to the poor. Back in the UK she read history at Selwyn College, Cambridge and gained an MSc in Diaspora and Migration History at the University of Edinburgh. She was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 as part of an SNP campaign to address the gender pay gap around employment in the Highlands.
It has been a busy first term, including a 2018 address to the parliament entirely in Gaelic, topped by becoming the first woman to deliver a Budget in either the Scottish Parliament or Westminster (Wales has a female finance minister).
The Budget itself was broadly supportive of business demands. Given that this was Mr Mackay’s plan it showed that he had listened to concerns over rising costs, the business rates burden and the call for no further tinkering with income tax rates.
For the most part, few of us will notice much change, unless the assumptions on the likely funding from Westminster prove wrong. The Scottish Budget is conditional on the UK Treasury’s plans. Chancellor Sajid Javid will deliver his Budget on 11 March and should he announce big tax changes, such as a cut in the higher rate of income tax, it will require some re-working of the Scottish Budget.
That could test the Scottish Government’s resolve in sticking to its own banding. Further divergence in tax rates could result in a change in sentiment among higher rate payers and the business community.