Kate Forbes has been hitting the headlines again with commentators interpreting her interventions as signs the runner up in her SNP leadership race is putting herself in pole position in the event of a future contest.
But some are wondering whether her words and actions in recent weeks have been of any benefit to her party and indeed to her own political ambitions.
Famously Ms Forbes gave a devastating critique of her rival Humza Yousaf’s track record in government during the STV debate in the party’s spring election.
Turning to face Mr Yousaf in the Glasgow studio, she asked him: “You were a transport minister and the trains were never on time, when you were justice secretary the police were stretched to breaking point, and now as health minister, we’ve got record high waiting times. What makes you think you can do a better job as first minister?”
Her attack certainly made the audience watching at home sit up, propelled Ms Forbes onto the front pages the next day and got her talked about for the months that followed (probably years too).
It also marked her out as the “change” candidate which was presumably its rationale.
It’s the path which Ms Forbes still appears to be taking since her narrow defeat by 52% to 48% in the second round of voting in the SNP contest after which Mr Yousaf was proclaimed SNP leader and First Minister.
She declined to take a seat in Cabinet after she was offered the post of rural affairs secretary, underlining her opposition to the Scottish Government’s plans for new marine protection zones as justification for not taking the job (the plans were shelved in June.)
Outside of government, the devout Christian has continued to distance herself from Mr Yousaf and his circle, notably during a series of interviews at Edinburgh Fringe shows this month when she said she had “dodged a bullet” by losing the SNP leadership contest and joked that the second coming of Christ could arrive sooner than indyref2.
Perhaps most controversially was her suggestion that Mr Yousaf is not yet the “natural leader” the independence movement needs in the way that Alex Salmond was. It’s a description likely to have gone down poorly among the FM’s allies, especially since Mr Yousaf promised during his election campaign to be “first activist” as well as First Minister.
Together these comments by Ms Forbes were probably rather unwise and while they would pass without an eyebrow being raised if they were made by an opponent from another party, they seem a tad unkind when made by a high profile member of the same party, especially when the subject of discussion is facing a multitude of challenges, many not of his own making, and their party is facing its biggest crisis in 50 years.
Even if Ms Forbes really did think she had “dodged a bullet” when asked during a podcast by Iain Dale and former Labour home secretary Jacqui Smith, it might have been more astute for her to have copied the response given by many a defeated athlete: expressed disappointment at the result, praised the winner and left the door open for another shot at some point in the future.
In politics, as in sport, a little humility and good grace go a long way. Instead, in her drive to be the candidate of change, the saviour waiting in the wings, Ms Forbes is in danger of beginning to look like the sour grapes loser.
And what if SNP members decide that whenever a new leadership race does come about (and that could be some time away) that it’s not actually policy direction or delivery that is the problem, but rather poor party discipline and infighting?
That seemed to be the diagnosis being made last week by Sir John Curtice.
The polling guru and Strathclyde University professor pointed to the party’s fractious leadership contest, the election of Mr Yousaf as leader and ongoing internal conflicts as being chiefly to blame for the SNP’s dip in the polls, not the Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens nor even the ongoing police investigation into the party’s finances.
Speaking to journalists at the end of last week, Neil Gray, the economy secretary, seemed ready to accept some of Sir John’s assessment.
“It’s always better when political movements are speaking with one voice,” said Mr Gray.
If SNP members, when they do get a chance to change leader, in the end agree that it is division that is at the root of the party’s woes, it’s unlikely they’ll decide that the solution to their troubles would come in the shape of a candidate promising change, but rather a candidate with the central message of unity.
And at the moment anyway, that doesn’t look to be Ms Forbes.
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