SNP ministers are in deadlock over how to address the gender recognition act reforms, amid claims the party is developing a problem with transphobia.

Sources say ministers cannot agree on how to take forward the proposals which would see transgender people being able to self-declare their gender, instead of having to go through years of medical approval and certification.

Critics argue that allowing self-declaration would affect women's rights and could impact safe spaces like refuges.

One senior party member told the Herald on Sunday: "The cabinet is split 50/50, which is why they've not said what they plan to do yet.

"It's because they can't agree on what to do at all.

"Clearly Nicola wants to see the self-ID brought in, but there's others who are dead against it and it's causing all the friction. The debate has become so toxic now that people feel there may be an issue with transphobia in the party.

"If it's not addressed properly, and the leadership fails to clarify it's position on the gender recognition act, we could see a row emerge like Labour has had with antisemitism. That is the last thing anyone would want."

Another source close to the SNP added: "If you look at the Equal Marriage Bill, that didn't take a year to respond to and that was the biggest ever received."

The Equal Marriage Bill consultation lasted three months, received more than 77,000 responses and took seven months for the government to announce its intentions.

The GRA consultation lasted four months, received around 15,600 responses and closed 13 months ago.

Stonewall Scotland chief Colin MacFarlane said the delay is causing transgender Scots a huge amount of stress.

He said: "The problem we have is there has been complete silence. We know from trans people that this is causing them real concern and anxiety.

"Trans people who speak to us say they have been marched up on top of a hill around the consultation and just left there.

"This gap has allowed a vacuum where some of the disruption has come from...The government do not seem to be showing any leadership whatsoever.

"It has now been over a year and the government needs to state what its intentions are. We need a timetable so people can see that action is happening."

Fiona Robertson, the SNP's women's and equalities convener said she had concerns about "some of the comments coming from within our party"

She said: "This is not new. It's part of our policy, it's what the party stands for. I have had no notification that it is changing.

"Within the party there obviously are some fairly vocal people who have come out against GRA reform, but we did run on a platform of it. People say they weren't consulted, but I was there, we had these debates at conference.

"Of course these conversations have to be had but it is noticeable to me that when people say they are talking about legitimate questions, the questions they are asking are often ones to which the answers are already there, but they haven't looked for them or have dismissed them.

"That is the concern I have that with some of the comments coming from some people within our party."

The latest row comes after a conversation between three senior MSPs was leaked online this week, in which they accused the First Minister of being “out of step”.

A tweet thanking Nicola Sturgeon for saying she supported transgender rights was shared in a private group with Ruth Maguire, Ash Denham and Gillian Martin.

Maguire, who is currently the convener of the equalities committee at Holyrood, shared the message and said “FFS” while former minister Gillian Martin replied “FM a bit [out] of step with her group”.

Serving cabinet minister Ash Denham added: "She might be out of step because no one has conveyed their feelings to her?"

The conversation was shared by a former staff member of Ash Denham, Jordon Henderson, who told the Herald on Sunday he was sent the chat by a disgruntled current employee.

A number of prominent party members immediately shared messages of support for the transgender community following the leaked chat, including MPs Mhairi Black, Angela Crawley and Stewart McDonald.

The First Minister failed to respond to the allegations, and instead an SNP spokesman released a statement in support of transgender rights.

Annie Wells, equalities spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives urged the SNP to clarify its position.

She said: "It’s clear that the rift in the SNP over this issue is getting ever larger.

“There’s a clear divide between Sturgeon and a group of her MSPs, and questions will inevitably be asked about what action the First Minister will take against this disgruntled group.

“It’s important that her party clarifies its position so we can have a wider discussion on the topic that is honest and respectful.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said:“Reforming the 2004 Gender Recognition Act remains one of the Scottish Government’s key equality priorities, to ensure that trans people can enjoy access to an improved gender recognition process that is in line with international best practice.

“There were around 15,500 responses to the Scottish Government consultation on proposals to reform the Act.

"Ministers are currently considering the responses to the consultation and will make an announcement on the way forward in due course."

The SNP failed to respond to a request for comment.