SNP leadership candidates call JK Rowling ‘brave’ and a ‘national treasure’ during car-crash debate

Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbs, and Ash Regan smile for a photo.

Each of the candidates standing to be the next leader of the SNP and de factor new first minister of Scotland heaped praise on controversial author JK Rowling during a televised debate.

Humza Yousaf, Ash Regan, and Kate Forbes were all in agreement in their belief that Rowling is a “national treasure,” with just Humza Yousaf saying he disagreed with her views on trans rights.

The candidates hoping to succeed outgoing first minister Nicola Sturgeon were questioned on their views of the author – and, thankfully, a number of other subjects – during a chaotic Sky News debate filled with tense back-and-forths on Monday (13 March).

Asked bluntly by moderator Beth Rigby if the Harry Potter author is a “national treasure”, Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf replied: “Yes, I think she’s done amazing in terms of the books she’s written, but I disagree with her vehemently on the issue of transgender rights.”

Meanwhile, beleaguered Kate Forbes – whose leadership campaign has been plagued by accusations of anti-LGBTQ+ comments – described her as “brave” and agreeing that she is a “national treasure”, adding that she “doesn’t disagree” with her views on transgender rights.

Ash Regan, who campaigned against Nicola Sturgeon’s Gender Recognition Reform bill, rounded-out the JK Rowling love-in by answering: “I think she’s very brave to speak out on an issue where many women who had raised legitimate concerns were receiving quite threatening communications.”

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Neither Forbes nor Regan specifically stated what these “legitimate concerns” were during the leadership debate.

JK Rowling posing for a photo.
JK Rowling has been criticised for her stance on trans rights in the past. (Getty)

In the past, JK Rowling has signalled her support for so-called “gender-critical” campaigners such as Maya Forstater while making several posts criticising trans-inclusive language. She has been accused by politicians and activists alike of being anti-trans – although she repeatedly denies she is transphobic.

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Several activists also criticised her 2022 book The Ink Black Heart, which centred around a popular cartoonist who gets ‘cancelled’ and eventually killed after accusations of being anti-trans.

It’s for this and various other reasons that Regan’s support of Rowling’s views is unsurprising, considering her decision to resign from the Scottish government over a bill affording trans people rights. Similarly, Kate Forbes’ previously expressed views make her support for ‘gender-critical’ viewpoints almost obvious.

But it’s the clearly obvious answers to the question that has left some to question why it was even asked in the first place.

Considering the sheer volume of issues facing Scotland at the moment – including LGBTQ+ rights – many argued the candidate’s views on JK Rowling to be wholly irrelevant.

In a debate that featured no mention of trans healthcare or the recent Gender Recognition Reform debacle – which saw the UK government in Westminster block Scottish democracy for the first time in the history of devolution – why did their stance on a fantasy author take up so much time?

SNP leaderships candidates clash during chaotic leadership debate

The debate did touch upon issues surrounding conversion therapy and progressive policies, however, with candidates being asked about same-sex marriage and other issues.

Kate Forbes once again attempted to have her cake and eat it too by saying that she believed conversion therapy to be wholly abhorrent, but that a law banning it should reflect “personal choice.”

When asked by Beth Rigby about a hypothetical scenario in which a gay man consented to undergo conversion therapy, Forbes said it would be “his choice” to decide.

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“My position on this is that people should be allowed to live as they choose in a free and tolerant society,” she said. “I think the conversion therapy bill should reflect that.”

She also claimed that she would “defend… the rights of everybody in Scotland to live and to love without harassment.”

This is despite her routinely saying that she believed same-sex marriage, childbirth out of wedlock, and abortion to be wrong.

In response, Humza Yousaf said she would effectively gut the SNP and destroy Scotland’s chances of an independence vote by “abandoning our progressive agendas”.

“Isn’t the reason you’re losing support because, as that exchange just showed, you’re not able to give a straight answer to a really straight question on a progressive agenda,” he said.

“You can appeal to conservatives because of the economic vision that you’ve got, but you’re not able to attain the support that you’ve got.”

According to a YouGov poll conducted for Sky News, 37 per cent of the Scottish public – which does not comprise entirely of voters – believe Kate Forbes is competent, while 20 per cent believe she is incompetent and 43 per cent don’t know.

Meanwhile, 22 per cent believe Humza Yousaf is competent, 40 per cent believe he is incompetent and 38 per cent don’t know.

Finally, 17 per cent of the Scottish public think Ash Regan is competent, while 24 per cent think she is incompetent and 59 per cent don’t know.

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