WHO would have imagined, scarcely a week after Nicola Sturgeon’s shock  resignation, that the main talking point in the SNP leadership race would be theology?

I grew up in a small rural community in mid-Argyll in the 1990s. Unlike some Highland parishes, my memory of Ormsary was that it was a functionally irreligious place. There were certainly conservative social impulses in the community, but they weren’t enforced by a belt of the ­crozier or being bashed over the head with Biblical authority.

There was a low level of compulsory Christianity at school. Grace was said at lunchtime, services in the small part-time parish church in Achahoish, and ­occasional midgie-bitten forays to St Columba’s Cave where the missionary was said to have laid his head on his way to Iona. This ­formulaic, whitewashed Protestantism was nothing passionate.

Some folk were routine kirk attenders – but the fact the laird and lady wife took the front pew spoke much more powerfully to the economic and social domination which shaped people’s lives and opportunities in the community, rather than any ­religious zeal.

There were a couple of Catholic ­families who went over the hill for services, though nothing was made of the ­distinction. As a wordy child attracted to strange ­vocabulary, I was delighted to ­discover there was such a thing as an ­“Episcopalian” even if the mysteries of what distinguished one from everyone else escaped me.

It seemed like every family had been ­issued with their religious viewpoint, and ours just happened to be: shrug. Going back several generations, my family has been basically irreligious and incurious about religion. I’m not baptised. We didn’t go to church. Nobody seemed to care.

For reasons I’ve never entirely fathomed – this tepid faith environment made a muscular atheist of me by the age of about seven or eight. Baby atheists always have an origin story.

I’ve a very clear – possibly apocryphal – memory of arguing with another primary school teacher about whether the tale of Moses in the rushes was true or just ­another story. She was quite insistent ­Exodus was gospel, while the stories we read in the Ramayana and in Greek myth were ­invented. Mini-me wasn’t persuaded.

In departing from my ­family’s ­intergenerational indifference to ­questions of religion, I became what Bishop Robert Barron has described as a “secret Herod” – atheists with outsize and occasionally obsessive interests in all things theological and a gusto for ­debating them. The infant Robespierre grew up, as you can probably imagine, into an ­insufferably trenchant teenager.

My vehemence has waxed and waned in the years since. The soapy preaching at my granny’s Church of Scotland funeral – which essentially gave the lie to what the dead woman was all about – rekindled a bit of my old wrath. Debates on gay rights and assisted dying reliably rake over the coals.

But Scotland is now far more full of shruggers than it used to be. Functionally, Scotland is now a largely non-religious place.

Banal Christianity has been replaced by banal irreligiosity. Just under 60% of us identify as non-religious. Most of us don’t believe in prayer, a benevolent and all-knowing creator god, choirs of ­angels, or that Christ died for our sins.

In modern Britain, cultural representations of Christianity can often seem banal in the other sense – all the redemption and hellfire extracted.

Join our friendly vicar for an ecumenical knitting ­competition. Follow the golden rule. Be kind. None of this is dreadful life advice, but it is quite the transformation from the lamb of god standing as if slain – to something just plain woolly.

I think both assumptions contributed towards the bafflement which met Kate Forbes media round last week and help explain how she came to gain and lose so many backers in the SNP ­parliamentary group. Some people seem honestly surprised that she believes these things. I’m just surprised they’re surprised.

Evangelical Calvinism isn’t exactly known for its compromising character.

It’s also the optics. If your idea of what a hard-line Presbyterian looks like is Reverend Ian Paisley, then you’re ­going to struggle to reconcile that picture with a friendly young woman who seems ­otherwise to be a fully signed-up citizen of the 21st century.

Forbes’s backers – in the party and ­media – assumed she’d have a neat ­position statement ready, clarifying her views on the relationship between church and state and her religious convictions and public policy.

One friend in the party suggested the following formulation, which might just have done the trick: “I’m not going to ­engage in hypotheticals about what I would or would not have voted for ­before I was elected but I’m proud to ­always ­support equality and human rights.

"I’ve made clear that my religious beliefs are personal to me and deeply held, and ­public policy making is separate to the faith aspect of my private and family life.”

There are even ways of taking these challenging questions and using them to pivot towards a more democratising ­message. She could have stressed that “party policy is established ­democratically and conference and as leader, I will always give effect to what conference decides.”

This might strike cynical readers as too cute by half, but it would have been ­considerably more deft than a ­commitment not to “roll back” existing rights which were “hard won” – in great part because they had to be won from ­religious and social conservatives who were once quite happy for their ­consciences to govern the sexual mores and legal status of other ­people’s ­relationships.

There are two different explanations about how Forbes’s pitch for FM ended up in this strange place just one week into the campaign. I’m afraid neither demonstrate much in the way of ­political judgement.

The first is that she was ­ambushed by the media, determined to make mischief with an outsize focus on her religious ­convictions. Being an open and honest soul, she spoke without fully reckoning with the political impact of her views. This doesn’t ring true.

A second is more compelling. I often think Aaron Sorkin’s bad advice about how politics works in the West Wing has distorted the political perceptions of a generation of would-be elected representatives. In one episode, a presidential candidate finds himself in the middle of a media firestorm.

To dampen the flames ­threatening to engulf his presidential campaign, he ­decides to exhaust the media with a till-you-drop press conference.

He answers every question, addresses every point – and in the story, finally leaves the hacks speechless and bored. This heroic PR job ­allowed the politician to move past the ­issue and get on with his presidential ­campaign.

YOU wonder if Team Forbes thought a similar gambit might work here.

Knowing her convictions were bound to be a ­major weakness in her campaign, they may have reasoned it was best to address these ­vulnerabilities head on, right from the get-go, before executing a pivot towards the more appealing, potentially unifying aspects of her platform.

The openness and honestness was ­certainly there for all to see last week. If you were feeling charitable, you’d ­describe Forbes’s approach to answering these questions as unguarded.

A more barbed assessment is that they were ­naive. Just because someone has asked you a question doesn’t mean you have to ­answer it.

People often say they wish their ­politicians were more honest, but the truth is that a capacity for evasion – and more importantly good political ­judgement about the consequences of what you do decide to say – aren’t ­optional extras for politicians hoping to win and retain popular support in a socially diverse country.

In her campaign launch, Forbes said “I believe we need someone who can unite our party and our movement. I’m a ­unifier.” The evidence so far suggests this is wishful thinking.