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Joanna Cherry admits she is not Nicola Sturgeon's 'best mate' and refuses to rule out future SNP leadership bid

Joanna Cherry, the SNP's Edinburgh South West MP
Joanna Cherry, the SNP's Edinburgh South West MP Credit: Reuters

The SNP's most prominent rising star has  admitted she is not Nicola Sturgeon's "best mate" and described Alex Salmond as the party's greatest ever leader.

Joanna Cherry MP disclosed she had only ever sat down with the First Minister once and received a mere text message to congratulate her on her spectacular Supreme Court win declaring prorogation unlawful.

Ms Cherry, who has been tipped for the SNP leadership after leading the successful legal challenge against Boris Johnson suspending parliament, said she was "not complaining" about the lack of contact from Ms Sturgeon.

The QC praised the First Minister as a "very strong effective leader" but suggested she would be interested in standing in any race to succeed her.

In contrast to Ms Sturgeon, she described Mr Salmond as a "friend" and said she believed he was innocent of the sex crimes with which he has been charged.

He denies any criminality but Ms Cherry, the party's home affairs spokesman at Westminster, admitted she was concerned about the "political fallout" of his imminent trial.

Her intervention came after earlier this year she launched a scathing attack on the party leadership and claimed to be the victim of an internal smear campaign over bullying allegations.

In what appeared to be a brazen challenge to Ms Sturgeon's authority, she also 'liked' a tweet referring to a newspaper column that questioned whether the First Minister's "days are numbered".

Joanna Cherry QC MP during a Brexit Q&A event at the 2019 SNP autumn conference Credit: PA

In an interview with Holyrood magazine, published to coincide with the SNP conference in Aberdeen, Ms Cherry referred to notes she prepared earlier when asked about her leadership ambitions.

"I’d love to play a leadership role in a future independent Scotland, but leadership doesn’t necessarily mean being the leader of the party or being the first minister,” the Edinburgh South West MP read out. 

“There’s lots of leadership roles, and I want to play my part, but no woman should ever write herself off as a potential leader. I’ve worked very hard in my role and I know I’ve got quite a big public profile now and I’m popular with the party membership, but there isn’t a vacancy for an SNP leader."

However, she did not deny that she wants to succeed Ms Sturgeon, saying: "That’s why some people think I’ve got a big ego, because I don’t say, ‘Oh no, it couldn’t possibly be little old me’. 

"That is what women are expected to do, but if I was a man of my age, with my professional background, people would take it for granted that I might want a leadership role, and I certainly wouldn’t have to apologise for it."

She said she was not putting herself forward as leader "at the moment" but "I wouldn’t rule myself out for the future."

First Minister of Scotland and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon visits trade stands at the party autumn conference 

Disclosing her lack of communication with Ms Sturgeon, Ms Cherry said "I don't know her very well" but argued the 35-strong Westminster group of SNP MPs was so large that "it would be difficult for Nicola to meet us all and be friends with all of us."

She added: "So, I’m not complaining that I’m not Nicola’s best mate.”

Ms Cherry said Mr Salmond was "the greatest leader the party’s ever had, the leader who took the party from obscurity to government" and she was worried about his trial.

Maurice Golden, the Scottish Conservative Chief Whip, said: "Perhaps it’s no wonder Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t want to give the time of day to an MP who’s so blatantly pitching for her job.”