Former Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes has said she plans to use her time out of Government to do some “heavy thinking” about policy.
Ms Forbes turned down the rural affairs brief this week offered by First Minister Humza Yousaf after he narrowly defeated her in the SNP leadership race.
The offer was seen by some as an attempt to demote his former leadership rival, but Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said Ms Forbes turned down the job in search of a “better work-life balance”.
Speaking for the first time since the First Minister’s Cabinet appointments, Ms Forbes told the Holyrood Sources podcast: “I said during the contest that we’re at a crossroads and I think we are.
“I think there’s real merit in taking a period out of government to do some heavy thinking and some heavy lifting on policy, and where Scotland goes next and the nature of Scotland’s economy and what the case for independence looks like.
“I will be thoroughly engaged in all of that.”
Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Show, one of Mr Yousaf’s key supporters said the door remains open for Ms Forbes to return to the Government “when the time is right”.
Neil Gray, who served as the First Minister’s campaign manager in the SNP leadership race and is now the Wellbeing Economy Secretary, said: “Kate has had a very strong campaign.
“She is well respected, not just within the party but out-with it.
“She’s going to continue to be an asset, not just for the SNP but for the independence movement, and the door is open to her to return to Cabinet when the time is right for her.”
One of the key issues that may have caused the former finance secretary to turn down the job was that of highly protected marine areas (HPMAs), which could result in around 10% of Scotland’s fishing waters being closed off and are currently the subject of a Government consultation.
During the leadership campaign, Ms Forbes spoke out against such a policy, but she could have been tasked with implementing it had she taken on the rural affairs brief.
She told the podcast there was a “whole host of reasons” why she turned down the post, but added: “I think it’s fair to say that after five weeks of a contest in which many things have been said, people would be looking to me to maintain integrity and obviously I would seek to support the Government in full while trying to hold to some of the positions that I’d expressed during the campaign around things like the HPMAs.”
Ms Forbes drew ire during the campaign over her views on social issues, with some MSPs withdrawing their support following comments she made about things such as same-sex marriage.
The MSP said she would extend “the hand of friendship” to those who she may have clashed with during the campaign, but added it is a “two way street”.
The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP also hit out at claims her economic platform was right-wing, saying the assertion – which was made by the now First Minister during the campaign – was “bizarre”.
She added: “I think it genuinely was a bit of spin and smear to try and progress other candidates’ prospects.
“There’s nothing right-wing about wanting to take families out of poverty.”
Asked if she is going to be a “loud backbencher”, Ms Forbes said: “I am going to be myself, and I think if we’ve learned anything during the contest it’s that I say what I think and I say what I mean.”