IAN Blackford has sacked Joanna Cherry, kicking her off the SNP’s Westminster front bench in an incendiary move that has sparked a huge row in the party.

Cherry last night confirmed she had also contacted police over a “vicious threat” to her personal safety after her sacking was announced. Police Scotland said officers are investigating following a report of “threatening communications” made online.

Blackford said his decision was part of a reshuffle to “draw on new talent”, but a source close to Cherry told The National there was “definitely tall thistle syndrome at play here”, saying the leadership was keen to cut the QC – often touted as a potential successor to Nicola Sturgeon – down to size.

The Edinburgh South West MP announced the party leader’s decision on Twitter, writing: “Despite hard work, results and a strong reputation I’ve been sacked today from the SNP front bench. My constituents and fellow party members who gave me a resounding mandate in recent NEC elections should rest assured that I will continue to work hard for them.

READ MORE: SNP sack Joanna Cherry from Westminster front bench team

“Westminster is increasingly irrelevant to Scotland’s constitutional future and the SNP would do well to radically re-think our strategy.”

Cherry, who is close to Alex Salmond, has been a high-profile critic of the party’s leadership in recent years, particularly over their approach to indyref2, and over Scottish Government plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act.

Under the proposals – which have been shelved until after the May election – it would become simpler for trans people to receive a gender recognition certificate. The policy has split the SNP.

The row between the factions intensified last week when Cherry came to the defence of a gender critical activist accused of antisemitism. Sarah Phillimore was kicked off Twitter for violating its rules against “hateful conduct”.

The MP said the social media giant had overreached, saying the moderation policies were “a violation of free speech and your hateful conduct policy does not protect women”.

But that defence upset members of Out for Independence, the official LGBT wing of the SNP, who criticised Cherry for offering Phillimore her support.

​READ MORE: SNP sack Joanna Cherry: Blackford told MP she 'upsets people'

“As an inclusive, intersectional organisation we condemn the support given to Sarah Phillimore today by an SNP MP,” it wrote.

“Phillimore’s antisemitism and transphobia are not part of the Scotland we want to see – bigotry in all forms must be opposed.”

Cherry replied to the tweet, labelling it “grossly defamatory”. She added: “I’ve reported it to the party’s National Secretary and he has promised me to take urgent action,” she told the group.

“Your attacks on a prominent party representative who is also a lesbian are disgraceful,” she added.

Cherry’s Westminster colleague, Kirsty Blackman, disagreed.

“I often disagree with daft moderation policies by social media companies, but in this instance they should be praised for censoring or banning someone for spouting transphobia or antisemitism, rather than criticised.”

She added: “Like so many in the SNP, I continue to oppose both transphobia and antisemitism.”

She used the hashtag “#IstandWithOFI”.

Last week, a number of high profile trans activists and allies resigned from the party, partly because of the Cherry row, and partly because of reforms to the Hate Crime Bill.

That led to Nicola Sturgeon taking to Twitter to promise transphobia would be met with “zero tolerance”.

On Thursday, the SNP’s Business Convener, Kirsten Oswald, and the depute leader, Keith Brown, said the party would be drawing up a definition of transphobia in a bid to tackle the problem.

​READ MORE: Joanna Cherry replaced by Stuart McDonald and Anne McLaughlin in SNP reshuffle

“We are sorry that we’ve let you down and today pledge ourselves to change. The SNP does not and will not tolerate transphobia.

“We all need to have an open conversation about how we got here and how we remove the toxicity from our discussions.”

Given the row it’s understood a number of MPs were set to write to Ian Blackford to say that they had lost confidence in Cherry’s ability to performer her role as spokesperson on justice and home affairs. It’s understood she found out yesterday, just half an hour before a meeting of the Westminster group, that she’d been demoted.

Cherry came to prominence after spearheading a successful legal challenging to Boris Johnson’s attempt to prorogue parliament in the Supreme Court.

She had planned to contest a Holyrood seat at May’s election but a last minute rule change on dual mandates by the SNP’s NEC effectively ended that ambition.

In his reshuffle, Blackford promoted Patricia Gibson, Angela Crawley, Richard Thomson and Stephen Flynn to the front bench team.

In a statement, which made no mention of Cherry, he said: “Team working and co-operation are key to ensure results and this reshuffle will give us a strong team to take us forward. We are at a crucial time in politics.”