SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes’ first job in the Scottish parliament was funded by an anti-abortion Christian lobby group that doesn’t disclose its financial backers, openDemocracy can reveal.
The group, Christian Action, Research and Education (CARE), is known for its opposition to abortion, sex education and LGBTIQ+ rights. It has long funded a controversial internship scheme in the Scottish parliament, paying for young supporters to act as researchers for MSPs for around a year, so they can learn better how to influence public policy.
Speaking to openDemocracy today, retired SNP MSP Dave Thompson, Forbes’ predecessor as the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, confirmed that her time working with him, believed to be around 2011, was funded through CARE’s scheme.
Last year, openDemocracy revealed that more than 20 MPs in Westminster have also taken on interns funded by CARE since 2010. And as well as its internship programmes, CARE employs a lobbyist at the Scottish parliament who has met with numerous MSPs in recent years to discuss issues including their opposition to hate crime laws and trans rights.
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The organisation has an income of almost £2m a year but doesn’t disclose where it gets this money from.
Since being elected to Holyrood in 2016, Forbes has granted considerable access to Christian right lobby groups. Almost 10% of her meetings as an MSP with registered lobbyists have been with representatives of ultraconservative groups, including CARE, the Evangelical Alliance and the Christian Institute. Together, these groups have a turnover of around £8m a year. None reveal the sources of their funding.
In a blog on its website this week, CARE described Forbes as “an evangelical Christian who would have voted against same-sex marriage, believes only married couples should have children, is pro-life, and believes biological sex is immutable”.
Almost 10% of Forbes’ meetings as an MSP with registered lobbyists have been with ultraconservative groups
Forbes has caused controversy in recent days by saying she would have voted against same-sex marriage had she been an MSP during the 2014 vote, and that she opposes sex before marriage.
But she hasn’t previously declared that she got her foot on the first rung of the Holyrood ladder through CARE’s controversial scheme.
openDemocracy understands that Forbes took up the role in Thompson’s office around 2011. She graduated from Cambridge University with an undergraduate history degree that year, and then completed a master’s at Edinburgh University in 2013. When Thompson retired, she was his “personal choice” to replace him, The Inverness Courier reported at the time.
Speaking to openDemocracy, Thompson said he hosted a number of interns in his time as an MSP, including but not exclusively from faith groups. He said CARE interns are there “to learn, to gain experience”. He added: “I saw it as helping to train them and develop them and stretch them.”
Thompson, who convenes the campaign group Christians for Independence and is now a member of the Alba party, said that CARE “identifies people who have leadership characteristics and offers to support them”.
Speaking to openDemocracy in a personal capacity, Erin Lux, a co-convener of Out for Independence, the LGBTQ+ wing of the SNP, said: “We can’t trust someone who works with these kinds of groups to fulfil our manifesto on issues like banning conversion therapy.”
Lux added: “It’s deeply concerning that she came to politics through a group which actively campaigns against LGBT people. It’s not about what she thinks privately; it’s that she tells us she wants to legislate for those ideas.
“Everyone’s concerned about dark money in politics. This just goes to show how it can affect issues of social justice.”
Neither Forbes nor CARE responded to openDemocracy’s requests for comment.
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