JOANNA Cherry has said she would love to play a “leadership role” in an independent Scotland.

In a wide-ranging interview with Holyrood magazine, the high-profile Edinburgh South West MP, who is one of the favourites to replace Nicola Sturgeon as party leader, also spoke of her support for Alex Salmond.

She also hit out at a “minority” of SNP activists who back plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), accusing them of trying to “shut down” debate by dubbing some feminists “transphobes” for “sticking up for women”.

Asked about her leadership ambitions, Cherry told Holyrood: “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.”

She added: “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. We have a very strong and effective leader and there’s no vacancy.”

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The MP also described speculation she would challenge Sturgeon for the leadership as “a set-up by journalists”.

“I have never said I want to be party leader; others have said it and frankly, I wish they wouldn’t, because it just causes me grief I could do without.”

Cherry said she wouldn’t rule herself out for the future, “but there is no leadership vacancy right now and I’m not putting myself forward as a potential leader of the SNP at the moment. Those who are doing so are mentioning my name without my involvement or my permission.”

On Salmond – who faces nine charges of sexual assault, and two of attempted rape, all of which he denies – Cherry said: “Well, look, Alex is my friend, and I was brought up to stand by my friends. It’s the kind of family I come from."

The National: Alex Salmond

She added: “Alex is clear that he’s innocent and I respect that. I also believe that justice will be done because I trust in the Scottish courts to deliver a just decision.

“Of course I worry about the political fall-out for the party from any trial because it’s an invidious position to be in for the former first minister, the greatest leader the party’s ever had, the leader who took the party from obscurity to government, being on trial for very serious claims. It does worry me, yeah.”

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The interview appeared as the slate of candidates by the pro-GRA reform group, Out For Independence, cleaned up in the SNP’s internal elections.

In June, the Scottish Government postponed plans to reform legislation that would allow people to get a new gender recognition certificate through self-declaration rather than requiring medical evidence.

The position of Women’s convener was won by Glasgow councillor Rhiannon Spear, who has backed GRA reform and had signed the Out For Independence pledge. She beat Colette Walker, who had signed an alternative Women’s Pledge, by 412 to 380.

That Women’s pledge states that women “have the right to maintain their sex-based protections as set out in the Equality Act 2010”. It adds: “Women have the right to refuse consent to males in single-sex spaces or males delivering intimate services to females such as washing, dressing or counselling.”

Cherry was among a group of SNP activists and politicians at the launch of the Women's pledge on Sunday night.

Cherry told the magazine: "I believe in trans rights. I believe in gay rights – it would be a bit odd if I didn’t as a lesbian – but I believe in equal rights for everyone and I believe in equal rights for women and girls as well.

“Under the Equalities Act, there are certain protected characteristics and one of the protected characteristics is sex, and drawing on my own professional experience as a lawyer, I know that there are good reasons to have sex-segregated spaces, but what has disappointed me about the debate around trans rights is that a small minority within the LGBT-plus movement and also, sadly, within the SNP and also the Labour Party here, have tried to shut down debate by calling any feminists who speak up for women as transphobes.

"And they do it to bully and intimidate. And I won’t be bullied or intimidated and I will always stick up for women.”

She added: “As a politician, I’m interested in the legislation and at the moment, there’s a debate about whether or not we should have self-ID.

"I think that debate should be conducted in a respectful fashion and that those women and girls and feminists who have concerns about self-ID should be listened to, not shouted and howled down. And unfortunately, there has been a significant and noisy minority who shouted and howled those rights down and have attempted to smear people who articulate those rights as transphobes.”