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THE HERALD, 29th April 2024

Kate Forbes: How is she perceived in Highland constituency?

Her intervention was considered key to breaking the stalemate in long-delayed plans to build a new hospital in Lochaber. Described as hard-working, cool-headed and honest, the Dingwall-born SNP politician who represents the UK’s largest constituency area has a reputation for putting the miles in.

An opponent of hugely controversial plans to designate 10% of Scottish waters as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) which was later scrapped, she is seen as an ally by those in the industries that are the lifeblood of the Highlands and Islands.

The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch backed calls for a controversial new 18-hole golf course on Coul Links, near Dornoch, saying the economic benefits could help avert further depopulation in the Sutherland area. The former finance secretary said it was a “necessity” and that the Highlands did not have the “luxury of ignoring major economic opportunities.”

‘She is very much in tune with what people in the Highlands think’ Her views on issues such as gay marriage, abortion, trans rights and having children outside of marriage were savaged by former Deputy First Minister John Swinney during the last leadership election and may not endear her to the younger demographic.

However, they “would not be seen as an impediment” to the large swathes of “Conservative with a small c” voters in the Highlands, says retired academic and think-tank director John MacDonald, who lives in Lochaber.

“Highlanders recognise that we have a distinctive culture and requirements and there is a long tradition going back to (Liberal Democrats) Russell Johnston and Charles Kennedy of Highland parliamentarians that are respected across parties in no small part because they are recognised for championing the Highlands,” says Mr Macdonald.

“Drilling down into it a bit more I think she is seen to be a very good parliamentarian and she covers the largest constituency in the UK, which is no mean feat.

“Broadly speaking she seen to be out and about covering the miles, which is what you have to do. “I think she’s also seen to have a lot of honesty and integrity and that really struck me the last time she was being considered [for the leadership] “I think there are lots of ‘Conservative with a small c’ voters in the Highlands, particularly in the rural areas, where it’s not an impediment to have a faith and speak about it.

“I know lots of people who don’t have faith who admired her for being upfront and honest because how often do you see honest statements from politicians which might have a negative impact? “How wide her support is, is a different thing entirely really. “With younger voters, in issues like gender identity, she is going to be regarded as a dinosaur by many people. “But I think much comes down to how you articulate things and I’m quite sure she wouldn’t stand in the way of legislation.”

He is clear that having a Highlander in the top job in Scottish politics “would not mean all the area’s problems would be solved.”

David Sedgwick, former head surgeon at Belford Hospital in Fort William, said that plans delayed by 20 years to build a replacement “would not have progressed” without the Dingwall-based MSP’s intervention. “Kate intervened in the planning process for the new hospital by negotiating changes in the leadership of the project team in NHS Highland which has produced positive results.

“She is extremely bright and very hardworking, and people appreciate that.”

“I’ve had many dealings with Kate in different topics and reckon she is of exceptional ability, even-handed and trustworthy,” added John Hutchison, who is also on the steering group for the new hospital.

Michael Foxley, former leader of Highland Council, said: “Her Free Church Christian views were the norm here 50 years ago and would be personally supported still by many. “She has made it very clear that her personal views would not affect her political decisions. She is strongly supported by my two sons in their twenties.

“The description of her as right wing, which I heard  during discussions on Eigg yesterday, are absurd. She is pro-business, which most of the SNP cabinet is hopeless at.”

She has vowed to “fight tooth and nail” for the rebuild to progress despite the Scottish Government pulling funding for this and other capital projects earlier this year.

North Uist-born John Morrison, managing director of Morrison Media, says the 34-year-old politician  is viewed as someone who “upholds traditional Highland values”.

“People in the Highlands see Kate as intelligent but in touch with the grassroots on issues like the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA) and issues like Coul Links.

“She is very much in tune with what people in the Highlands think.”

Highland Alliance councillor Jim McGillivary described the Cambridge graduate as “one of the few shining stars in the Holyrood universe of dark matter”.

He said: “She knows that a thriving economy is what funds public sector expenditure, andsupports our more vulnerable people.”

Another Highland constituent said: “She appeals to the more socially conservative people up here and that’s probably the majority.

“People here  are turned off by the fanatical green agenda and the transgender debate which has hijacked the independence movement. “She is more in line with their traditional values.

“She is smart and capable and not afraid to speak the truth, but would leadership change her?”