JOANNA Cherry QC has painted her SNP rival for Ruth Davidson’s old Holyrood seat as a loser in the latest coded attack between the pair.

Ms Cherry is challenging former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson for the party’s candidacy in the top target of Edinburgh Central, where the Tory majority is just 610.

Both are seen as potential successors to Nicola Sturgeon, and the selection contest has been described as a battle for the soul of the SNP.

Writing in the National today, Ms Cherry, the MP for Edinburgh South West, said competition for the candidacy was “a healthy part of our democracy and our party”.

She said SNP members in the seat would select their candidate “based on the ideas put forward, and their work and campaigning record - not on personalities”.

However she also stressed her record as a winner against the Tories in the 2017 general election, when Mr Roberston famously lost his Moray seat.

She wrote: “I have proved that it is possible to have a high profile on the national stage while also working hard in the constituency.

“My victories over the Tories in the 2017 and 2019 General Elections are testament to my reputation as a hard worker who gets things done.

“My seat was one of the top Tory targets in 2017, yet I held on through hard work and bucked the national trend with a majority of 1097.”

Although she did not name Mr Robertson, the contrast was obvious given his was also a top Tory target seat.

Mr Robertson went into the 2017 election with a majority of 9,065 only to see it overturned by Tory list MSP Douglas Ross, who won by 4,159 votes on a 13.6 per cent swing.

Mr Robertson’s share of the vote fell by 10.7 percentage points.

Ms Cherry went into the same election with a majority of 8,135 and held on against Tory list MSP Miles Briggs despite a 10.2 swing to the Tories.

Ms Cherry’s share of the vote fell by 7.4 percentage points.

Nationally, the SNP’s share of the vote fell by 13.1 points from the 50% high of 2015.

Ms Davidson, who quit as Scottish Tory leader last year, is stepping down as the Edinburgh Central MSP at the Holyrood election in 2021.

Mr Robertson was the first SNP big-hitter to put himself forward for the party candidacy earlier this month, talking up his ability to focus on the constituency.

He said Edinburgh Central needed “an MSP that has a full-time commitment to their constituents and constituency, and the SNP needs a full-time candidate to win”.

It was a reference to Ms Davidson’s expected elevation to the Lords, but also to Ms Cherry as an MP as she contemplated throwing her hat in the ring.

With Mr Robertson close to Ms Sturgeon and Ms Cherry close to Alex Salmond, the contest is seen as a proxy battle between the current and past SNP leaders and their respective cautious and aggressive approaches to a second independence referendum.

Ms Cherry advocates Holyrood legislating for a consultative referendum without Westminster’s consent, to smoke out a legal challenge by Boris Johnson.

Ms Sturgeon has warned it could send the Yes movement backward.

After Ms Cherry confirmed her candidacy bid last weekend, Mr Robertson fired back by saying he would be a “political team-player and colleague”, rather than trying to replace Ms Sturgeon.

He added: “No former or current Westminster MP should think they can just turn up at Holyrood without any direct experience of the institution and walk into any job".

He also said the next SNP leader should come from the new generation of the party's politicians, implying it shouldn't be Ms Cherry.

Mr Cherry subsequently announced that if she became the MSP for Edinburgh Central she would step down as the MP in Edinburgh South West, leading to a row about the £250,000 bill for the ensuring byelection.