The Nationalists were last night accused of being soft on homophobic bigotry after a councillor who made anti-gay comments was allowed to stay in the party.

Kenneth Gunn, who described homosexuals as “very sad people”, has been suspended for six months.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie criticised the SNP for not expelling its controversial member.

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Mr Gunn, a Borders councillor, provoked a furious response when he called a BBC radio show over an arts exhibition that focused on gay rights in the church. During the show he said: “Look where it is going now. We have got so-called gays who are really very sad people and we have non-believers and heathens, you know, running the country and running down Christianity.”

Asked why atheists should treat the Bible with reverence, he said: “Well, non-believers are damned to hell anyway, so why should we bother?”

When it was put to him that he had to live alongside other people and have mutual respect, Mr Gunn said: “No, I don’t think so ... when we all went to church on a Sunday morning and we all prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ every Sunday morning, this was a much better country.”

Although the SNP initially downplayed the homophobic remarks as “personal”, SNP MSP Joe Fitzpatrick urged his party to “take action” against Mr Gunn.

Jeff Duncan, a key member of the Save the Regiments Campaign, also emailed a complaint to MSPs.

He wrote: “Why is it when an SNP councillor makes a very offensive statement on Asians or blacks he is dealt with by the party leadership promptly and decisively, but when it is an equally offensive attack on gays and lesbians the party defends him or her, citing religious freedom?”

The Sunday Herald has learned that the SNP’s nine-member disciplinary committee suspended Mr Gunn for six months.

Under the party’s code of conduct, SNP members have a responsibility not to discriminate “on the grounds of race, colour, gender, religious belief or non-belief or sexual orientation”.

Shortly after his suspension, it is understood Mr Gunn contacted other SNP members to say he intended to appeal.

He remains suspended pending any appeal outcome.

The party suspension does not affect Mr Gunn’s work on the Scottish Borders Council. However, the failure to expel him has angered opposition parties.

The SNP last year failed to expel a Glasgow councillor who was caught on camera firing an AK-47 assault rifle.

Jahangir Hanif, who also passed the weapon to his children, was handed a two-month suspension by the Nationalists.