THE former deputy leader of the SNP has officially launched his selection bid for Holyrood with a coded swipe at his main rival.

Angus Robertson said he would “support First Minister Nicola Sturgeon” if SNP members in Edinburgh Central picked him as their candidate for the 2021 election.

The remark appeared to be a thinly-veiled crack at rival Joanna Cherry QC, who is seen as closer to Alex Salmond than Ms Sturgeon.

Mr Robertson, who was the SNP leader at Westminster until losing his Moray seat in 2017,  launched despite the candidate selection process being suspended because of coronavirus.

A party source said there was "a lot of disquiet" about the timing of the move.

Mr Robertson, 50, stressed his local credentials and opposition to Brexit in a campaign video filmed outside the Scottish Parliament.

Ms Cherry, currently the MP for Edinburgh South West, hit back on Twitter, saying the trouble with an anti-Brexit pitch was that Brexit had already happened.

The UK formally left the EU on January 31 and is due to leave the transition phase at the end of this year, before the Holyrood election.

Edinburgh Central is a top target for the SNP next May.

It was won by then Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson in 2016 by just 610 votes, but she will not be standing for re-election. 

The fight to secure the SNP candidacy is seen as a proxy war between the Salmond and Sturgeon camps in the party, with Ms Cherry closer to the former FM and Mr Robertson a long-term ally of Ms Sturgeon.

Mr Robertson said: "At present Ruth Davidson holds this seat for the Tories with a tiny 610-vote majority and I believe that I can win here with the support of SNP members and voters of all parties who don't want to see the area represented by a pro-Brexit MSP."

He went on: "I grew up in Edinburgh Central, I work here today, this is where I live.

"I understand the different issues that matter to people and communities right across Edinburgh Central.

"If you want to elect a hard-working, local MSP, with high-profile national experience who will support First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and deliver independence, please support my campaign.

"Together, we can win Ruth Davidson's seat from the Tories and secure a pro-independence SNP majority at Holyrood."

In response, Ms Cherry was biting about Mr Robertson’s approach, saying it was a bit late to be talking about opposition to Brexit.

She tweeted: “The trouble with pitching for @theSNP Holyrood #2021 as the anti #Brexit candidate is that #Brexit has happened. 

“Despite the best efforts of those of us who fought it tooth & nail.

"The issue now is how we secure #independence & #Scotland’s Future in Europe.”

She also said she wanted an SNP that encouraged debate.

“We need a grown up conversation about policy & strategy. We must provide answers to questions about #EU accession, borders, economics & what kind of Scotland we want. 

“A worthy heir to the enlightenment? Or one where debate is not encouraged?”

The UK formally left the EU on January 31 and is due to leave the transition phase at the end of this year, before the Holyrood election.