THE SNP’s “party machine” is behind Humza Yousaf in the leadership contest, Joanna Cherry has claimed.

The MP for Edinburgh South West told Good Morning Scotland that Ash Regan, the candidate she is backing, is “making progress” and that people should not “write her off”.

Cherry declared her support for Regan at her campaign launch in North Queensferry on February 24 after ruling herself out of the contest.

Yousaf and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes are also in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon, with all three candidates set to go head to head at a hustings in Dumfries on Monday evening.

Cherry said: “I think it’s very wrong to write her [Regan] off, she’s making progress and I’ve heard a number of people say they’ve been switched on to her campaign after listening to her properly at the hustings.”

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She added that Regan had showed “great courage and leadership” when she resigned in opposition to the Scottish Government’s gender recognition reforms.

The sudden nature of Sturgeon’s departure meant all three leadership campaigns had to be launched quickly with little preparation and no time to develop a policy platform, Cherry added.

The MP continued: “It’s no secret that the party machine is behind Humza and not behind Kate and Ash.”

When it was suggested to her that the “party machine” would deny this allegation, she said: “The majority of parliamentarians who have declared are behind Humza.”

“We’ve already had a couple of cases of people wrongfully using the party’s internal mailing system to support Humza.”

The National has approached Yousaf’s campaign for comment.

The National: Joanna Cherry is backing Ash Regan in the leadership raceJoanna Cherry is backing Ash Regan in the leadership race

Cherry’s comments come after Robin McAlpine, former director of the pro-independence think tank Common Weal, questioned a number of decisions taken by SNP executives. 

He said that cutting the length of the contest to four weeks, forbidding candidates from spending more than £5000 on their campaigns and seeking to exclude the media from hustings were intended to favour Yousaf. 

In a blog post, he said: “This is all taking place with no effort at all being made to pretend that the entire resources of the SNP are not being put in the hands of one candidate.

“The party’s election rules (for example, use of email lists) are being broken with such impunity that the only conclusion is that the SNP machine has nothing but utter contempt for its members.

“This is all because their candidate is so weak that even with the full machinery of the party, its researchers, its event organisers and all the rest he doesn’t look fit to be a first minister.”

The SNP were approached for comment.

On Sunday, the three leadership candidates took part in an online hustings which went ahead in private after the first three were livestreamed for all to watch.

Kate Forbes said that she made the case for a wellbeing economy during the two-hour event while Humza Yousaf said he had spoken about the importance of bringing both the party and the country “together”.

Thus far, candidates have marked themselves apart on some of the big issues, including independence.

Regan has proposed a “voter empowerment mechanism” which would see the SNP treat every election as a de facto referendum.

Meanwhile, Yousaf has said the SNP is too bogged down in discussions of strategy and that they need to make the case for a progressive Scotland to convince more people.

Forbes has said Scotland should aim to hold an independence referendum within three months of the next General Election and that the prospectus for it must be revised and “written by the party and not by the British civil service”.