The leader of Glasgow council has accused some of her opponents of sectarian dog-whistling as councillors across parties warn city politics has turned nasty.

Susan Aitken said she had been subjected to “unsubstantiated, unjustified and untrue” claims of “footballing bias” in a fraught three years in power.

The councillor - the first to ever lead an SNP administration at George Square - was earlier this year cleared of complaints of partiality against Rangers in a dispute over a planning application at Ibrox.

Ms Aitken, who was not brought up in any footballing or religious tradition, said the episode “kicked off” personal abuse against her.

Her remarks come as politicians across the spectrum describe a toxic culture in city politics - as Glasgow heads in to the final stretch of its current local government term.

Asked if somebody was stoking sectarianism and if this was dangerous, Ms Aitken said: “Yes and Yes.”

She added: “Among sections of the loyalist community, there has been a narrative out there for a long time that the SNP are an IRA supporting party,

“When it became personal for me was when claims were made, unsubstantiated, unjustified and untrue claims, that I and my colleague David McDonald had personally interfered to stop Rangers getting a fan zone.

“Ever since then that narrative has been‘Susan Aitken hates Rangers’ and that becomes ‘Susan Aitken hates protestants’.

“I am not a football supporter and have never been a football follower. My dad’s technically a Thistle Fan - he grew up in Maryhill.

“I was not brought up in any football tradition, nor was I brought up in any religion. I come from a Communist family.”

A complaint about Ms Aitken was made to Scotland’s councillor watchdog. Like three others, it was thrown out

She said: “It was utter nonsense. The former leader of the opposition in here and a Conservative MSP were quoted as saying that I had shown ‘footballing bias”.

“Now that was code and it immediately kicked it all off. It was horrendous.”

David McDonald, Ms Aitken’s deputy has already spoken on the effect the claims had on his family, which, like so many in Glasgow, is made up of Rangers and Celtic fans.

Ms Aitken stressed problems spilled over from the social media - where she described threats and abuse as ‘worrying” - in to real life.

She said: “Colleagues have had to cancel surgeries or have someone accompany them to surgeries. I have had colleagues who were confronted at their surgeries by people for whom it was very clear what their motivation was.”

“I don’t like talking about this stuff. I can’t avoid talking about it, or it would be the proverbial elephant in the room.”

The allegations of footballing bias came as Ms Aitken and her administration tried to deal with heightened sectarian tensions after a Catholic priest was spat on during an Orange Walk in 2018.

Her opponents deny trying to inflame such tensions - but acknowledge their existence. Some of them, including Labour councillors, have suffered similar social media claims themselves in the past.

Labour’s Malcolm Cunning, who was elected leader of the council’s opposition early this month, warned constitutional politics was feeding sectarianism.

The Aberdeenshire-born councillor said: “I find it very difficult to get any head around some fo the extreme tribalism. “But I am convinced that is has deteriorated a bit in the last few years. “And that is not unconnected to people on both sides of the constitutional debate trying to exploit it for their own purposes.”

He added: Whichever said you are on, I wish you would stop. Because it is not in anybody’s interests. It is a blight on Glasgow and west central Scotland.”

He added: Social media does not help when people hiding behind anonymous accounts can say absolutely vile and deeply threatening things. I have huge sympathy for what Susan Aitken has faced as a result of that. It is unacceptable. It should not be part of out debate at all and where we can find out who is doing it, they need rooted out. Big time.”

Asked if councillors had stoked sectarianism, Mr Cunning replied: “No.”

He added: “There have been times when perhaps people, on reflection, might have used different language or not done a certain tweet or another.

“I don’t think any politicians on either side have gone to extremes.”

Asked if he was concerned about sectarian dog-whistling in Glasgow politics, Conservative leader Thomas Kerr said: “The history of sectarianism in Glasgow is well known and, tragically, continues to be a stain on our city. Unfortunately, too many of our communities are divided by what football team they support and it is incumbent on all elected politicians to work to bring those communities together.

“I do also recognise that certain communities have felt targeted in recent years and a perception that their freedoms of religion or assembly are under threat. I’d like to see all political parties come together to take the politics out of those democratic freedoms and work together to build a Scotland free from prejudice and discrimination.”