LIVING in a sectarian bubble is "hard work" in Scotland - despite the best efforts of some - because of significant mixing in the workplace, pubs and extended families, an academic has claimed.

Dr Joseph Webster said that unlike in Northern Ireland, this lack of religious segregation was a cause for optimism as Scotland strives to stamp out bigotry.

But he insisted the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which has been scrapped in a landmark move this week, had caused lasting damage.

READ MORE: Football Act repeal is a ‘retrograde step’, says Nicola Sturgeon

He said repealing the legislation was the right decision, but argued its legacy was going to be "problematic".

He added: "Indeed, contrary to its party political supporters, the legislation has damaged relations between police and certain groups of fans.

"In the context of Old Firm matches, fans on both sides of the sectarian divide felt the law unfairly targeted them, while letting the other side off the hook. Put simply, the act has made tackling football-related sectarianism more difficult, not less."

It comes as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was "disappointed" by Thursday's vote to scrap the football act, which the SNP pushed through in 2011.

The historic move marked the first time an act had been repealed, with no legislation to replace it, since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999.

READ MORE: Football Act repeal is a ‘retrograde step’, says Nicola Sturgeon

Mr Webster said he had observed the "hostile reaction" of Rangers fans being filmed by Police Scotland during a controversial march last weekend.

He said: "The police acted professionally, and were merely doing their job in a difficult and tense situation. Nevertheless, those fans being captured on film felt provoked and responded by angrily accusing the police of never targeting them other boys.

"Other marchers simply pulled their black balaclavas more tightly around their faces. One thing was obvious: attempting to enforce the act was doing little except stoking anti-police sentiment."

He added: "Many in Scotland will be glad that the act has been scrapped; others will be understandably concerned about what message repeal will send.

"My response is that getting rid of a bad law does not signal the acceptance of sectarianism, it simply signals that the law in question was not fit for purpose."

READ MORE: Football Act repeal is a ‘retrograde step’, says Nicola Sturgeon

Mr Webster, of Queen's University Belfast, has attended Orange social clubs and shadowed Protestant flute bands as part of his anthropology research.

He said he was not convinced better legislation would offer the cure politicians are looking for, and called for more focus on the "root attitudinal causes" of sectarianism.

He argued "ethno-religious segregation" offered fertile ground for an us versus them mentality, adding: "Fuelled by collective experiences of suspicion, resentment, and intolerance, for some in such communities, the label bigot can become a badge of honour.

"Nevertheless, a cause for optimism remains. This is because, unlike in Northern Ireland, living within a sectarian bubble in modern Scotland is hard work.

"Indeed, many of my own research participants found it difficult to maintain the structural integrity of this bubble, despite their best efforts.

"There was often simply too much mixing - on the street, in the workplace, in the pub, in extended families - to fully ignore the simple truth that 'them other boys' weren't as bad as sometimes imagined."

He called for greater emphasis on earlyyears education, but added: "Yet optimism also needs to be tempered by realism."

Dave Scott, director of anti-sectarian charity Nil by Mouth, warned against comparing Scotland to Northern Ireland and insisted sectarian attitudes still needed to be tackled. He said: "Having spent half my life there and half here, comparing Northern Ireland and Scotland is a bit like comparing Belfast to the Balkans - it's a question of scale and it risks 'trivialising' sectarian attitudes here simply because more blood has been spilt elsewhere."

READ MORE: Football Act repeal is a ‘retrograde step’, says Nicola Sturgeon

A Scottish Government spokesman said it remained “committed to ridding Scotland of the scourge of sectarianism”.

He said the repeal of the Act, without any attempt to put alternative legislation in its place, “sends out an appalling signal”.