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 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 calling any feminists who speak up for women as transphobes.”

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.

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

On Sunday night, Cherry was among a group of SNP activists and politicians at the launch of that pledge.

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.”

She added; “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.”

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.”

The MP described speculation she would challenge Sturgeon as “a set-up by journalists”. Cherry added: “There is no leadership vacancy right now and I’m not putting myself forward as a potential leader of the SNP at the moment.”

Cherry also said she would stand by her friend Alex Salmond, who faces nine charges of sexual assault, and two of attempted rape, all of which he denies.

She said justice would be done: “Alex is clear that he’s innocent and I respect that.”