Speculation that Kate Forbes will not want to become Scotland’s new first minister because she is on maternity leave has been fiercely criticised by campaigners, who warn such assumptions are discriminatory.
First minister Nicola Sturgeon stepped down in a tearful speech at a press conference held in her official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh, on Wednesday after leading the party for more than eight years.
Ms Forbes, the Scottish finance minister, has been billed as a frontrunner to succeed her SNP leader. The 32-year-old, who has moved quickly up the political ranks, had her first child in August.
But a BBC article questioned whether Ms Forbes would want the job given she is on maternity leave.
Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant then Screwed, a prominent campaign group, told The Independent: “We have to stop assuming that women lose their ambition when they have a baby.
“For many women, they become more ambitious, more focused. Questioning whether Kate Forbes would want to take on a new leadership role because she’s ‘off on maternity leave’ is discriminatory.
“Maternity leave is like an elite training programme for leadership – you learn so many new skills: Patience, multitasking, adaptability, networking – all on about 42 minutes sleep a night.”
Weighing on the debate, Sara Reis, acting director of the Women’s Budget Group, who analyses government policy from a gender perspective, told The Independent: “The damaging assumption that mothers will take a back seat in their careers following maternity leave is reinforced by policies that make those same assumptions.
“For heterosexual couples, the lack of a well-funded shared parental leave policy means mothers do the lion’s share of childcare in their baby’s first year, and if they then want to return to work the costs of early education and childcare can be prohibitive.
“This sets women up to be the primary carers for children until they grow up, rather than the expectation that it is shared equally between parents, which is more rewarding for families and better for the economy as mothers can pursue their ambitions to the same extent as fathers.”
Ms Reis argued that policies which provide families with “real choices” about how they juggle work with parenthood would “normalise mothers returning from maternity leave to take up demanding and rewarding jobs, including as leaders of nations”.
Ms Forbes is seen as the rising star of the party, having delivered the Scottish government’s budget in 2020 just hours after her predecessor, Mr Mackay, quit.
The 32-year-old is widely admired for her grasp of complex issues and is a strong media performer.
Ms Forbes, who was first elected to the seat of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch back in 2016, would likely face criticism about her religious views if she were to get the top job. The politician belongs to the Free Church of Scotland, whose creeds are at loggerheads with major SNP policies on LGBTQ+ rights.