A prominent Scottish National Party activist has resigned and branded the leadership “undemocratic” over plans to push ahead with gay marriage.
Robert Stewart, 66, a member for 22 years, claims the views of grass roots activists are being ignored.
And he fears the move could cost the party widespread support in the run up to the independence referendum.
Until last week Mr Stewart, from Glen Urquhart, Inverness-shire, was the secretary of the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch constituency association.
But he has now resigned having been angered by the party’s decision to press ahead with changing the law on marriage.
The policy is being driven by deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon. Her husband Peter Murrell – the SNP’s chief executive – accepted Mr Stewart’s resignation in a curt email.
Last night Mr Stewart said the SNP had “ridden roughshod” over public opinion.
He said: “The announcement to proceed with changing the law was on the same day that the result of the consultation was announced with 64 per cent of Scots who responded indicating they were against a change in the law – 77,508 people responded to the consultation, three times the number who gave their views on the independence referendum.”
In a hard-hitting attack on the leadership, he continued: “SNP members have never been consulted as members. There is no party policy on the matter. National Conference have not discussed the issue.
“It is not an SNP manifesto commitment, and I simply cannot understand how the SNP have a democratic mandate either from the party or from the nation to make such a fundamental change to a centuries old institution. In short, I find the decision undemocratic.”
Mr Stewart, who was born in Dumfries but raised in Lancashire before returning north of the border, believes the policy will harm the party at the ballot box.
He said: “I am not a church person, I am not married to the person I live with, and I have been divorced twice. Some people might call me a hypocrite.
“But this is all about democracy and proper consultation and that has not happened. I’m a great believer in grass roots democracy and not elected dictatorships.
“I had always believed the SNP was the only party that listened to people and I was besotted with the party but this decision has come as a great shock to me and I’m finding it hard to get my head round what is happening.
“I’m getting phone calls and letters from local members asking what is going on as people – some with links to the party dating back to the 1930s – find to their horror that head office is going out on a limb.”
The father-of-three who has two grandchildren continued: “I believe the move is a needless distraction before the referendum on independence and will cost the SNP votes from evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics and Muslims.”
Backing the planned law change last month deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, despite the scale of opposition contained in the public consultation, said: “We believe that, in a country that aspires to be an equal and tolerant society, as we do in Scotland, then this is the right thing to do.”
Mr Stewart emailed his resignation after her comments and was astonished to receive a curt acceptance email just 14 minutes later from Sturgeon’s husband, the SNP’s chief executive Peter Murrell.
Mr Murrell’s email stated: “I will make sure the membership team remove you from the system.”
Mr Stewart said: “There was no attempt to reason with me after 22 years of service. I felt offended by that after so long in the front line.”
Last month Gordon Wilson, party leader from 1979-90 said the SNP’s plans to redefine marriage had already cost it votes.
He said the SNP would have done better in May’s local elections if Roman Catholics, Muslims and older voters had not been put off by the proposals.
Mr Wilson said: “I personally believe the SNP would have gained another two wards in Glasgow if it were not for the plans.”
Mr Wilson has previously warned that the Scottish Government could “alienate people from voting for independence” if it pushes for same-sex marriage against public opinion.
A SNP spokesman said: “We fully recognise that Mr Stewart has strong views on this issue and we respect his decision.
“The SNP have long-promoted tolerance and equality, and the proposed legislation does fit with those principles.”