MSPS have overwhelmingly backed the principle of gender reforms to give trans people a more “dignified” recognition – after an SNP minister dramatically quit in protest.

Ash Regan resigned as community safety minister before the stage one debate – with seven of Nicola Sturgeon’s MSPs defying the whip and voting against the plans.

In her resignation letter, Ms Regan said she had “considered the issue of gender recognition reform very carefully over some time” and had “concluded that my conscience will not allow me to vote with the government at the stage one of the bill this afternoon.”

MSPs voted overwhelmingly, 88 to 33, in favour of the legislation at stage one, while four MSPs, abstained.

Seven SNP MSPs, Stephanie Callaghan, Fergus Ewing, Kenny Gibson, Ruth Maguire, John Mason, Ms Regan and Michelle Thomson voted against the legislation -–while Jim Fairlie and Annabelle Ewing abstained.

Conservative MSPs Jamie Greene and Sandesh Gulhane backed the SNP Government’s plans, while Tory MSPs Miles Briggs and Jackson Carlaw abstained.

Under the plans, supported by all parties except the Tories who backed them in 2016, trans people would be able to obtain a gender recognition certificate without the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and while the age limit would be reduced from 18 to 16 years old.

Critics have claimed that the proposals put women’s access to single sex spaces and rights at risk, but none of these locations require a gender recognition certificate to enter.

Responding to the concerns, SNP Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison told MSPs that “the threat to women comes from predatory and abusive men, not trans women and trans men”.

She added that “helping one group to better access their rights does not mean diluting or diminishing the rights of another group”.

Tory equalities spokesperson, Rachel Hamilton, pointed to “legitimate concerns” that have been “ignored by this government”.

She added: “The implications of this bill go beyond simply helping trans people gain recognition of their acquired gender.”

Ms Hamilton said: “The proposed reforms remove almost all hurdles to receiving a GRC, leaving the process more open to abuse.

“There remain grave concerns that lowering the age at which someone can obtain a GRC to 16 may lead to harm for vulnerable young people. “ But Conservative MSP Jamie Greene broke with his party’s current stance and supported the proposals after delivering a powerful speech in Holyrood.

He warned that some of the opposition to the proposals is “word for word the same arguments that were used” against gay rights decades ago, while some are “thinly hiding transphobia amongst those concerns”.

Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy backed the plans to give trans people a more “dignified” process, ending the “dehumanising” current set-up.

She said that amendments will be needed at the next stage of the parliamentary process over data collection and scrutiny.

Ms Duncan-Glancy added: “Delays to the legislation have allowed a vacuum to develop and people to interpret the bill as something it is not, to reach wrong or unproven conclusions about what its impacts might be.

“It is clear to me that women’s and trans rights can, must and do already exist without one being detriment to the other.”

LibDems leader Alex Cole-Hamilton stressed the plans are “simply a technical amendment to law”.

He added: “We cannot allow this debate to be highjacked by those who question the very existence of the trans community or who fear and vilify them and seek to prevent their access to equality rights.”

But outspoken SNP backbencher John Mason said he would oppose the legislation.

He told MSPs that “there are two sexes, male and female”, adding “that biological sex cannot be changed”.

Mr Mason said: “If it becomes less clear who is a man and who is a woman then almost inevitably it becomes more difficult to ensure that women are paid equally, are equally represented in parliament or elsewhere and it becomes more difficult to ensure that women have access to safe spaces.

“I fear that this legislation sends out the message that the distinction between male and female are not really relevant.”