THE views of SNP politicians who oppose gender recognition reform should be ‘respected like any other conscience issue’, according to the party's leader in the House of Commons.

His intervention differs markedly from that of Nicola Sturgeon whose group of MSPs were not allowed a free vote or to vote according to their conscience during the parliamentary stages of the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill, now blocked by the UK Government.

In a recent interview the First Minister has said some opponents “used women’s rights” to cloak their bigotry and has previously described critics' concerns as 'not valid'.

Nine SNP MSPs did not support the GRRB, brought into Holyrood by the Scottish Government, in a bid to make it easier for transgender people to obtain a gender recognition certificate.

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They include the former community safety minister Ash Regan who opposed the reforms amid concerns they did not provide sufficient safeguards for women-only spaces such as changing room and prisons.

Joanna Cherry, the SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, and a prominent opponent of the reforms, welcomed Mr Flynn's remarks.

She highlighted a newspaper interview in which he made his comments and wrote on Twitter: "SNP opposition to gender recognition reform should be ‘respected like any other conscience issue, according to its new Westminster leader. Thank you ⁦Stephen Flynn."

Mr Flynn's stance is also in contrast with the opinion of Westminster colleague Alyn Smith and Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.

Mr Smith said last week that rebels should quit the party, while Ms Somerville said they should question whether they should stand for re-election.

Discussing the row that has intensified in recent weeks, the Aberdeen South MP said:

“Ultimately, they are a member of the Scottish National Party just as much as I am”.

He added: “Within any political parties, there has to be space for people to disagree and to disagree without being disagreeable. I think that’s incredibly important,” Flynn said.

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Mr Flynn, 34, supports the GRR bill to simplify how an individual changes their legal gender, which was blocked from going for royal assent last month by the UK government.

But he added there was “understandable public concern” regarding two recent high-profile cases of sex offenders who began their transition after committing their crimes seeking accommodation in a women’s prison.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times Scotland, published on Sunday and after Mr Flynn spoke to the Guardian, shows support for the SNP has fallen to its lowest in five years – potentially a reflection of voters’ concerns over the handling of the ongoing gender row, though it did not ask specific questions on this.

Ms Somerville weighed into the row sparked by Mr Smith last week, who said those unwilling to support party positions should 'stand as an individual'

Speaking to the BBC's Sunday Show, Ms Somerville said: "If you stand on a manifesto, we all stand on manifestos, we all stand as SNP representatives - that SNP symbol is beside our name, it's the same as any political party, we're all there representing a political party.

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"So I think it's up to individual members as we go through their stage as elected members that they may wish to take decisions that are against that manifesto - they can do that, political parties have that.

"They should then question about whether it is comfortable being in a party where you pick and choose the policies after you've been elected."

When pressed on Mr Smith's claims, she said: "At an election, I think that is a fair point.

"If you're standing as an SNP candidate at an election on a manifesto, you should stand on that manifesto and you should follow that through.

"At the next election, you can then decide if you wish to be an SNP candidate."

Asked if rebels such as Ms Cherry or Ms Regan should resign at the next election, Ms Somerville said it was "entirely up to them".

She added: "If they wish to stand as an SNP candidate and their branch and their constituency wish to have them, then they have to stand as SNP candidates on a manifesto with an expectation they would follow that through."