THE candidates vying to become the SNP ’s Women’s Convener have been offered advice on “how to protect themselves” amid tensions over the gender recognition act.

In a startling statement in the party’s conference handbook, the outgoing convener Fiona Robertson says a significant portion of her time in the post has been spent dealing with the “abusive behaviour” towards members who express “support for equalities”.

She adds: “I have offered advice to people running for the new convener positions regarding what the personal cost is likely to be and how to protect themselves.”

Earlier this year, the government delayed plans to bring in legislation to make it easier for trans people to self-identify, saying there needed to be further consultation.

There have been high profile splits in the party over the issue.

Scottish ministers Kate Forbes, Ash Denham and Ivan McKee, and MP Joanna Cherry were among 15 parliamentarians who signed an open letter warning Nicola Sturgeon not to “rush” ahead with plans.

The 15 said that “conflating sex with gender identification affects a wide range of policy and service delivery, including data collection, education, health and social care, justice and sport.”

The letter adds: “Changing the definition of male and female is a matter of profound significance.”

A number of high profile politicians, including MPs Mhairi Black and Hannah Bardell, have publicly disagreed with their colleagues.

Black described the arguments against self-id as “tired, homophobic guff”.

The National: The Gathering heard from speakers such as Mhairi Black

Currently, trans people who wish to change their legally-recognised gender must “prove” they are trans, often through psychiatric and medical diagnoses and by living in the gender they wish to be recognised as for at least two years.

The government is to publish a draft Gender Recognition (Scotland) Bill before the end of the year for consultation which will ask for opinions on removing requirements to provide medical evidence and the time required to have been living in their acquired gender down to six months.

Speaking to The National, Robertson warned of “an anti-trans lobby” working “with the homophobic right in the USA”.

“A lot of people in Scotland are being radicalised against trans people; they call it peak trans-ing,” she said.

“These groups are well-organised and effective online, so the abuse they target at anyone who speaks up in support of trans people’s rights is grinding. As a disabled woman with fluctuating energy and depression, it was overwhelming, and it was important that people stepping forward understood how tough it can be.”

She added: “The leadership and most of the members of the party are supportive of trans and non-binary rights, with Shirley-Anne Somerville and others being very clear in our support for this vulnerable minority group.”

Six women are standing for the Women’s Convener role – which for the first time will now be separate from the Equalities Convener position.

Five have signed a pledge organised by grassroots LGBTQIA+ pressure group Out For Independence, which commits them, among others things, to being an ally to trans people.

Colette Walker who hasn’t signed the pledge, told The National: “I support LGBT rights but there are real concerns that any male who wants to identify as female to enter female safe spaces, or positions reserved for females or female sports. If Out4Indy offer that reassurance I would be happy to sign.”

Walker is, however, the only candidate to have backed a Women’s Pledge.

The commitment, backed by Cherry, says “women have the right to maintain their sex-based protections as set out in the Equality Act 2010.”

In the conference agenda, the National Secretary Angus MacLeod urges party members to “debate serious policy disagreements in good faith and in a collegial manner.

“There have been occasions this year where that has not been the case and I would urge members to ensure that they do engage constructively and directly with one another,” he added.