Kate Forbes: SNP colleagues should not have been surprised by my views on same-sex marriage
It is a "good question" why SNP cabinet colleagues have been surprised by her perspective on moral issues, Kate Forbes has told Holyrood.
One of three candidates to emerge in the contest to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, Forbes received endorsements from MSPs including Tom Arthur, Richard Lochhead and Claire Haughey.
However, all three have now withdrawn their endorsement after Forbes told an interviewer that she would not have voted in favour of equal marriage, had she been an MSP at the time of the vote.
Lochhead said the SNP "can't have a party leader who'd vote against same-sex marriage", with Arthur and Haughey also confirming their decisions as a result of Forbes' position.
Outlining her stance, finance secretary Forbes said she will "defend to the hilt everybody's right in a pluralistic and tolerant society to live and love free of harassment and fear" and that "the rights of people of faith to practice fairly mainstream teaching" should be respected.
She went on: "Equal marriage is a legal right and as a servant of democracy, rather than a dictator, I absolutely respect and defend that democratic right."
When asked if her position had surprised her Scottish Government colleagues, she said: "It's a good question.
"People often have said that I'm quite open about my perspective on things, sometimes quite vocal.
"If people think that I'm not who they thought I was, that's for them to answer. I have worked alongside them for six years."
Forbes continued: "Fundamentally, most of the time people's personal choices are not subject to judgement by me. We are scared of people of faith because we don't really understand it. We increasingly operate in fear in this country and we need to actually stop being scared of speaking our minds."
The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch has said she will continue to run against rivals Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan.
And she says that, as SNP leader and First Minister, she would U-turn on dualling the A9 and review the Scottish Government's deposit return scheme and planned restrictions on alcohol advertising, which have prompted concern from businesses.
Forbes said: "We need to dual the A9, we need to deliver our broadband objectives, we need to look at connectivity around our islands.
"In Scotland, we know that we have a huge demographic challenge, we know that we need to increase the tax base and we know that right now businesses are overwhelmed with the asks and burdens on them. How do we revitalise and really drive the economy so that in the next ten years we have the investment we need to pay for public services and social policy?
"It's about taking a joined-up approach in government. In public health, you may want to tackle alcohol consumption, yet by banning whisky adverts you risk one of our most significant industries. We want to encourage recycling, but there are small businesses in very rural parts of Scotland that won't have a reverse vending machine and are kind of stuck. That needs to be reviewed.
"We need to think about growth in food and drink, tourism, technology and be very focused on how we deliver growth and creating a supportive environment and strong relationship with government so that we can listen and adapt quickly.
"Ultimately, it's about making it affordable to business and that comes down to infrastructure. Government should be focused on investing in infrastructure so business can thrive."
Since entering the race on Monday, Forbes has faced criticism from within the SNP for stating that she would be "loath" to challenge the UK Government's block to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. She has further stated that she views transgender double rapist Isla Bryson "as a man" and does not support changes making it easier for 16 and 17-year-old to gain legal recognition for a change of sex.
When asked about her view on having children outwith marriage, she told Sky News that would be "wrong" according to the teachings of the Free Church of Scotland, to which she belongs. She said: "For me, it would be wrong according to my faith, but for you, I have no idea what your faith is, so in a free society you can do what you want."
The next issue of conscience to come before the Scottish Parliament is likely to be assisted dying. Forbes told Holyrood: "It's a prime example of what should be a conscience vote. It will need to be a conscience vote."