SCOTTISH Tory leadership hopeful Michelle Ballantyne is facing fresh controversy after accepting support from a councillor who called Nicola Sturgeon a “drooling hag”.

Ms Ballantyne posed for pictures with Kathleen Leslie at her campaign launch in Edinburgh on Monday, it has emerged.

The SNP accused the MSP of appealing to “extreme sections of the Tory party”.

Ms Ballantyne has already been criticised for Ross Thomson’s involvement at the event.

The former Aberdeen South MP quit ahead of the general election after being accused by a Labour MP of a drunken sexual assault in a Commons bar in 2018.

Mr Thomson, who vehemently denies wrongdoing, is currently under investigation by the standards watchdog at Westminster.

Ms Leslie, a Tory councillor in Fife, called Ms Sturgeon a “drooling hag” and a “wee fish wife” in social media posts during the independence referendum.

In November 2013, she tweeted: “wee jimmy krankie is a dooling hag. She’s a walking horror show # VoteNO.”

Then a teacher in Dunfermline, she was later the subject of a complaint to the General Teaching Council for Scotland and admitted her fitness to teach had been impaired.

She agreed to her removal from the teaching register in 2017 and the GTCS barred her from applying to return to teaching for two years.

Ms Leslie, who stood for the Tories in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath at the recent general election, later apologised for her tweets.

She said last year: “My record speaks for itself. I’ve worked so hard on wider Fife issues and in my own ward.”

After Monday’s leadership launch, Ms Leslie tweeted a picture of herself with Ms Ballantyne.

She wrote: “Delighted to attend the launch of @MBallantyneMSP campaign to be the next leader of the Scottish Conservatives. A united Scotland & a better future for everyone. #backingballantyne.”

Ms Ballantyne, a South Scotland MSP, is the underdog in the Scottish Tory leadership race.

Interim leader Jackson Carlaw is the favourite to replace Ruth Davidson next month.

The Eastwood MSP has been backed by most of his Holyrood colleagues and council leaders, while Ms Ballantyne has yet to receive the backing of one other MSP.

An SNP spokesperson: said: "Michelle Ballantyne's campaign is clearly appealing to the most extreme sections of the Tory party, and she's not even bothering to hide it.

"That two of the most prominent recruits to Ms Ballantyne's campaign are a disgraced former teacher and a disgraced former MP tells us all we need to know."

A spokesperson for Ms Ballantyne's campaign said: "This is breathtaking hypocrisy from the SNP given the recent tweets by one of their prominent MSPs who refused to represent the views of unionists [John Mason].

"The SNP should clean up their own house instead of dredging up old stories about people who have apologised or have not been found guilty of the accusations made.

"Michelle’s campaign is a grassroots movement. She is supported by members right across Scotland.

"Michelle believes in treating people fairly and ensuring that she is not influenced by media trials."

Cllr Leslie has been asked for comment.