A controversial SNP MP has raised questions over Nicola Sturgeon’s future as First Minister after she described herself as a potential leadership figure.

Joanna Cherry, who is embroiled in allegations of bullying in her office, made the claim in a leaked email to local members in Edinburgh.

Cherry was elected as the MP for Edinburgh South West during the Nationalist landslide in 2015 and is considered an SNP rising star.

However, she was accused last month of condoning alleged bullying of employees by her office manager and friend Fraser Thompson.

The House of Commons human resources team received complaints last year, but they have not been resolved.

After the newspaper revelations were published, Cherry complained about internal party "infighting" and wrote:

“Lies are being told about me in some newspapers today. At present I’m not able to give my side of the story. I hope to be in a position to do so soon.”

She added: “I am not and never have been a bully. Fraser Thompson is not a bully either. I believe these to be politically motivated smears.”

Senior party figures believe Cherry, a QC, wants to succeed Sturgeon as SNP leader.

She has been tipped as a possible selection candidate for Edinburgh Central at a Holyrood level. Former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson is also believed to be in the running.

At row escalated last month, Cherry “liked” a post on Twitter which contained a link to an article speculating on Sturgeon’s departure from office.

The Herald on Sunday can reveal that Cherry emailed local SNP members on May 11th about a campaign session for the European Parliament elections.

She wrote: “I hope you will understand that I am unable to join you today. As you will be aware I have had a stressful time recently and the abuse and threats have take [sic] their toll.”

She continued: “I’m afraid we are going through a very difficult time in our party whereby factions and infighting leads to attempts to smear those seen as as [sic] potential future leadership figures.

“I try to be strong but sometimes the lies are hard to bear so I need a little bit of down time with my family this weekend to lick my wounds.”

One party insider said the leadership claim was “disrespectful” to Sturgeon, who has not indicated that she wants to quit.

Rumours circulated last month that Sturgeon was interested in a job at the United Nations, but she flatly denied the speculation when asked by the media.

A senior Edinburgh SNP source said: “It’s disappointing that Joanna spent so little time with activists on the key campaigning days before the European elections.

She clearly preferred to spend her time on Twitter and in self-promotion as a ‘potential future leadership figure’, to use her own words. I suppose we should be grateful she came out on polling day here in her constituency to have her picture taken for social media”.

Scottish Tory chief whip Maurice Golden said: "Any claims of abuse and threats in the SNP need to be fully investigated. All parties have a duty of care for staff, MPs and MSPs. That aside, the fact Ms Cherry now sees herself as a future SNP leader shows how deep the fractures run in the party."

The SNP did not provide a comment.