The SNP has resorted to paying people to deliver its leaflets in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election amid a reported lack of support among activists.

The party confirmed it was paying “individual distributors” a daily rate and and refused to say if any were on zero-hour contracts, which the SNP has condemned as “exploitative”.

Katy Loudon, the SNP candidate in Rutherglen, recently called the contracts “draconian” and attacked Labour for not promising to devolve employment law so Scotland can ban them.

However the Sun reported one leafleter told a resident: “I don’t support the SNP - I’m just getting paid to hand this s***e out. It’s a zero-hours contract as well.”

The SNP website says: “Far too often, zero-hours contracts are used not to provide flexibility but to exploit workers.

“This can mean denying employees regular or sufficient working hours or penalising them for not being available to work.”

The Sun said the SNP had  refused to name the company it was using to distribute leaflets by hand, or if zero hour contracts were involved.

The use of hired hands emerged just days after the SNP accused of “desperation” for asking its staff in London to help with the by-election ahead of the October 5 vote.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “While the SNP’s desperate campaign collapses, it is disappointing but not shocking to see that they need to pay people to deliver leaflets filled with empty rhetoric.

“While the SNP rely on zero-hours contracts to make up for their lack of support, a Labour government would introduce a new deal for working people — ending exploitative contracts.”

An SNP spokesperson said: “Activists have been working tirelessly across the constituency delivering candidate Katy Loudon’s bold plan to put more money into people’s pockets.

“The distribution of this leaflet was outsourced to a reputable third-party business.

“No one from that business recognises the conversation reported, and disputes that it ever took place.”

The Herald reported in July that SNP activists had complained of “embarrassment” at being asked to promote the party on the doorstep given its financial problems, including a police probe, and lack of progress on independence.

One councillor admitted they could not “in good conscience” ask people to vote for the SNP at the present time.

Labour sources also said the SNP vote was “very soft” with large numbers of don’t knows.

The SNP is seen as the underdog in the by-election, which was triggered by former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier being thrown out of parliament by local voters in a recall petition.

Ms Ferrier, who won the marginal seat from Labour in 2019 with a majority of 5,230, broke Covid lockdown rules while infected with the virus.

Both the SNP and Labour have ploughed huge resources and energy into the by-election, which is seen as a key test of popularity ahead of the coming general election.

The SNP is also facing questions over whether the leaflets comply with Electoral Commission guidance which says they must include the promoter, printer and beneficiary.

Some leaflets say they are promoted by the SNP and name the printer, but fail to say they are being promoted “on behalf of Katy Loudon”.

A Labour source said: “It looks like they have slipped up, which is surprising.”

The apparent error coincides with the SNP losing chief executive Peter Murrell, who had 20 years of election experience, and replacing him with former journalist Murray Foote.

An SNP spokesman told the Sun the leaflets were within the rules.