THE legislation has been hanging over Holyrood for five years with a pledge to simply bring Scotland “in line with international best practice”.

But MSPs are braced for the most toxic debate in Scottish politics to get even worse before it gets better.

Administrative changes to allow trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate have regularly hit the headlines, with claims of a misinformation campaign and accusations of “whipping up of a moral panic” – with one finger being pointed at a culture stemming from conservative church groups in America.

Proposals to reform the gender recognition process, first tabled by the SNP in 2016, were subject to consultation after consultation, receiving thousands of responses and an increasingly vocal opposition.

The Scottish Government stuck to its guns and pressed on with the plans, but the timeline has faced extensive delays, partly blamed on the pandemic. The legislation is now backed by all Holyrood political parties except the Conservatives.

The plan would drop the need for trans people to require a psychological examination and diagnosis for gender dysphoria before being able to have their gender recognised in law – with a move to a self-identification model, mirroring a host of countries across the world, including Ireland and France.

Opponents, including For Women Scotland and the Scottish Conservatives, have claimed this change is putting women’s rights at risk and is impacting the use of single sex spaces.

The campaign opposing the gender recognition plans has been backed by high-profile names, including author JK Rowling, while SNP MP Joanna Cherry has vocally criticised her party’s vision.

A gender recognition certificate is used to legally change a trans person’s sex on their birth certificate – aimed at helping them be recognised as who they truly are, including when they marry, pay their taxes, receive their pension and have their death recorded.

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison has warned “there has been some misunderstanding around what the Bill does not do”.

She has acknowledged “deeply-held views” around the debate and that “reservations about the Bill are often connected with legitimate concerns about the violence, abuse and harassment that women and girls face in our society”.

But she has insisted “trans people are not responsible for that abuse”.

The Social Justice Secretary has said the proposal does not change the protections set out in the Equalities Act and that “it does not change the exceptions in that Act that allow single-sex service to exclude trans people where that is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, including where those trans people hold a GRC”.

Ms Robison has stressed the plan “does not change or remove women’s rights – it does not make changes to how toilets and changing rooms operate, it does not redefine what a man or a woman is, and it does not change or expand trans people’s rights”.

The toxic debate is impacting trans people in Scotland, with hate crimes soaring by 87 per cent compared to the previous year and to the highest number recorded since legislation come into force in 2010.

Colin Macfarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, said he would “absolutely recognise that some women have concerns” about the proposals, but added that “many, many other women do not have concerns and are very supportive”.

He said: “It is unfortunate – deeply unfortunate – that there has been misinformation, some of it deliberate, around what the Bill will mean for women and girls.

“Look at the jurisdictions around the world that are introducing a system of self-declaration. As far as we are aware, there have been no negative impacts from introducing it, and there has been no diminution of rights for women and girls.”

“There has, unfortunately, been a whipping up of moral panic, and othering of trans people in the public discourse.”

Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Social Justice Committee has completed eight weeks of evidence from witnesses and experts on the plans, with discussions set to move to the Holyrood debating chamber after the summer recess.

Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said politicians “need to hold our nerves” as the proposals make their way through the legislative process.

He added: “This is going to get worse before it gets better.”

He has warned gender recognition reform “has been subject to myth and hyperbole which wrongly pitted communities against each other”.

Analysis carried out by Open Democracy after an initial public consultation on the proposals found roughly half of the anti-reform submissions came from Christian conservative groups, which traditionally oppose abortion and same sex marriage.

The study found that submissions were received from across the UK – as well as from groups in other countries including Canada, the US and Australia.

Around one third of responses to the latest round of consultation came from outwith Scotland.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “This misinformation is being floated by the religious right in America.

“There is imperial evidence they are not just stoking sentiment against minority communities, they are funding it as well.”

Scottish Greens MSP Maggie Chapman said that while reforms were passed in other countries, “Scotland got bogged down with toxic misinformation and misdirection”.

”Just as same-sex marriage did not affect people who did not want a same-sex marriage, so making it easier to get a gender recognition certificate will not affect those who don’t want to get one.”

Ms Chapman added that some of the groups opposing reform “have focused on painting trans people as dangerous”.

She added: “People will remember the scare-mongering in previous decades about how gay and lesbian people were a threat to children and society.

The same rhetoric is now prevalent against trans people, and it’s hard to separate this from the fact that hate crimes against trans people nearly doubled last year.”

But Susan Smith, director of For Women Scotland, has claimed “the Equalities Act and the Gender Recognition Act have been intertwined for some time”.

Asked about claims the legislation threatened single sex spaces, Ms Smith said: “It is a concern.”

She added: “The Government has to lead and also send out the right messages.

“If you leave out sex from protections, we are sending a message that women do not matter.

“The Government has been sending out this message that they do not really support the singe sex exceptions.”

Pressed about accusations of transphobia and spreading misinformation, Ms Smith said: “I think the thing is it’s very silly because it’s become a meaningless accusation.

“If people talk about women’s concerns or progress, they get accused of being transphobic. Maintaining a women’s existence is classed as transphobic.

“If you say people can come in on the basis of self-ID, the main group you are discriminating against is members of the opposite sex.”

But the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has conducted analysis on the potential conflicting rights and concluded the gender recognition proposals will have no impact on women’s rights.

SHRC chairman Ian Duddy said: “In relation to concerns that the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill will lead to the removal of single-sex services or women-only spaces, in our view, obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate should not have any effect on these protected spaces, as the exceptions provided by the Equality Act 2010 will continue to apply.”

Challenged by The Herald over the fact nobody entering a single sex space needs a gender recognition certificate, Ms Smith said: “While it is true you do not need to carry your GRC to go into the changing rooms at the gym, it is about the social implications.”

She claimed allowing more people to obtain a GRC would make people “feel you cannot challenge them because they might have a GRC”.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the United Nations’ independent expert on gender identity, has told MSPs that gender recognition process “should be based on self-determination”

Scottish Tory MSP Pam Gosul has consistently claimed “the system of self-declaration will open up the Bill to abuse by bad faith actors who could invade women’s single sex spaces”, despite the legislation she is helping to scrutinse having no bearing of single sex spaces.

Ms Gosal said: “I am very aware of the sensitivities around the Gender Recognition Act and recognise the need to improve trans rights. It’s clear women have deep concerns over these proposed reforms.”.