Concerns that anti-Englishness is a significant problem in Scotland were dismissed by prominent Anglo-Scots yesterday.

The comments were made by the Right Rev Sheilagh Kesting, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who said she was worried some anti-English remarks made in the context of sport crossed the divide between joking and prejudice.

She said: "There is a thin line between banter and something which is more sinister. In Scotland, we have got used to football as a context for perpetrating sectarianism, so I don't think we can pass off lightly anti-English remarks which are made during matches.

"It is too easy to dismiss this as healthy rivalry. It is not. Caricatures that seek to diminish others, barbed with prejudice and misinformation, are not part of a healthy society."

Miss Kesting, the first female minister to be appointed moderator, made the comments in an article in the February edition of Life and Work, the Church of Scotland's magazine.

She questioned whether the current political situation in Scotland, where the government is pushing for a review of the devolution settlement to increase the powers of the parliament and executive, is frustrating relations between Scots and English people.

She said: "There are anti-Scottish sentiments being expressed in England. I think the political climate is making it more likely. What compounded the thing for me was in London people were asking me, What is Scotland up to?' "The conversations I had with many of the people I met prompted reflections of whether the changed political situation will affect relations between our countries."

Miss Kesting even compared anti-Englishness with the religious sectarianism of the west of Scotland.

She added: "The principle behind sectarianism is the same one that feeds anti- English feeling."

However, a number of English politicians who have held ministerial posts within the previous Scottish Executive said they did not believe there was a problem of any significance surrounding anti-English feelings.

Des McNulty was born in Stockport and moved to Glasgow during the 1970s. He was first a student, then a lecturer, and now represents Clydebank and Milngavie in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr McNulty, the Labour transport spokesman, said: "I've never really experienced any anti-English abuse.

"I was talking to someone very recently who has moved to Saltcoats from England, and they found Scottish people very welcoming. I would say that was my experience."

Robert Brown moved to Aberdeenshire as a boy but has retained his Newcastle accent. He is a Liberal Democrat MSP for Glasgow and was a minister in the executive before the election last year.

He said: "I don't doubt for a minute that instances of anti-Englishness occur, and it may be that if you have a more southern accent than I have you may be more likely to experience it, but it really is not my experience at all."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "There is no place for discrimination or extremism of any kind in 21st-century Scotland and the Scottish Government is determined to do everything it can to stamp it out."