THE SNP has come under fire from equality campaigners over claims that one of its top Holyrood candidates expressed concern at promotion of homosexuality in schools and pledged to vote for new restrictions on abortion.

Sophia Coyle will be the SNP's top regional list candidate in Central Scotland if sitting MSPs Alex Neil and Christina McKelvie retain their constituencies as expected in the Scottish Parliament elections on May 5 next year.

She said that she would have defied the party whip in a bid to prevent homosexual couples adopting or fostering children and stated her opposition to gay marriage.

Ms Coyle has also said that churches should be able to refuse to hire out halls to groups that did not share a "Christian ethos" and backed a campaign which strongly opposed pre-marital sex, advocated protecting all human life from conception and described marriage as "the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all".

The remarks by the North Lanarkshire councillor, a member of an influential SNP dynasty in the area, were published on a blog after she gave an interview to an elder at Plains Evangelical Church near Airdrie while she was a rank outsider candidate in the 2010 general election.

Ms Coyle twice declined to comment on the article or state whether she held the views attributed to her in the church blog. SNP headquarters later issued a statement in which it claimed Ms Coyle was "entirely comfortable" with marriage equality. Although the party pointed out that Ms Coyle met the church elder five years ago, it did not dispute the account's accuracy.

The Scottish Greens said that if Ms Coyle still held the views it "seriously calls into question her suitability as a public representative." A spokesman added: "While it’s for the SNP to judge the calibre of its candidates, it's disappointing that they've selected someone who would restrict the rights of citizens of certain genders and sexual orientations."

Ms Coyle's comments are likely to cause concern among those who fear that abortion rights are at risk with control of the issue to be devolved to Holyrood, and contrast sharply with the Scottish Government position which has said there are no plans to change the law. Her candidacy is understood to be causing anxiety among some SNP members in North Lanarkshire, with one predicting that she would prove "a total embarrassment" if, as is likely, she becomes an MSP in May.

The councillor, whose attendance and expenses record has previously come under scrutiny, has worked as an assistant to MSP Richard Lyle. Her father, Michael, is also a councillor and convenor of the Airdrie and Shotts SNP branch which recently blocked grassroots members in Shotts from breaking away and forming their own organisation. Mr Coyle works for SNP cabinet secretary Mr Neil and MP Neil Gray as a case worker.

The Herald:

In the article, it is reported that Ms Coyle would "certainly vote to reduce the time limit for abortion to a lower level than 24 weeks" and believed "marriage was something that existed between a man and a woman."

It added that she "indicated fundamental concerns with the sex education teaching within schools and was concerned about the promotion of homosexuality in schools." According to the church article, she would have defied her party to vote against plans to allow gay couples to adopt or foster children. The law change to allow the move was passed overwhelmingly at Holyrood in 2006, despite strong opposition from the Catholic church.

The blog has emerged just weeks after the SNP called for devolution of equality powers so that it could extend rights for minority groups.

Tim Hopkins, director of the Equality Network, said that Ms Coyle's views on LGBTI issues as expressed in the blog were "very different" from most of her party colleagues and out of line with the stated position of the SNP.

He added: "Scotland can be proud of its record on improving LGBTI equality, but if we followed the policies attributed in the blog to Ms Coyle, that would take us straight from the top, to close to the bottom of the league in western Europe for equality and respect for LGBTI people."

An SNP spokesperson said: "Sophia Coyle held this meeting five years ago and like the majority of people in Scotland, is entirely comfortable with marriage equality. As the First Minister has made clear, the SNP Scottish Government has no plans to change the law on abortion and Shona Robison has written to women's groups confirming this."