Justice secretary Humza Yousaf says he wants the publication of data on sectarianism in Scottish football which is subject of a secrecy agreement with the SPFL.

He spoke out after ministers were urged to rip up the agreement which meant the withholding of nearly two years of data on “unacceptable conduct” in football grounds, on a claim it is confidential.

It had been believed that the SNP administration felt the public interest was served by withholding data that was provided by the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL).

Nil By Mouth, an anti-sectarianism charity, has lodged an appeal with the Scottish Information Commissioner to have the figures released.

But Mr Yousaf has said he spoke to SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster on Tuesday morning to outline the Government's preference for the data to be made available.

"I strongly agree that we need robust data to understand unacceptable conduct at football and take actions necessary to address it," Mr Yousaf said.

READ MORE: SNP Government in secrecy row over football sectarianism report

"The data is collated by the football authorities, not the Scottish Government.

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"It was only provided on the basis that it was, and I quote, 'confidential and is not published'."

He added: "However, our clear and consistent preference has been for this data to be published, therefore I've spoken to SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster today to reiterate this once again and we'll follow up in writing.

"He and the SPFL have confirmed that they are committed to discuss this positively at their next board meeting.

"It's only through open and honest discussion, based on robust evidence, that we can work with all of our partners to tackle the unacceptable conduct by a minority of supporters which unfortunately continues to shame our national game."

Neil Doncaster, SPFL chief executive, said: “I had a very positive and productive discussion with Humza Yousaf this afternoon, where he formally requested that a variety of information be made public. We will now discuss this as a board before deciding on the best way forward.

“During the conversation, we wholeheartedly agreed on the imperative to do all we can to tackle Unacceptable Conduct and underlined our keenness to play an active role in the Cross-Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on Combatting Sectarianism in Scottish Society when it convenes which we believe will be later in the summer.”

The comments came as Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur urged Mr Yousaf to tear up the contract and make the entire database publicly available.

"The football authorities have been collating data for the past two seasons in secret,

"Nobody but ministers and the police has ever seen it, they never will unless something changes.

"Will the Cabinet Secretary rip up the secrecy agreement and publish today, in full, the contents of the sectarianism database?"

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Liam McArthur, justice spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats

Mr Yousaf explained the agreement had been signed by his predecessor, Michael Matheson who had written to the SPFL in 2017 expressing his disappointment over the decision to keep the data from the public.

The letter by Mr Matheson to SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster at the time read: "It's difficult to see how the building of public confidence can be achieved without being open and transparent.

"I'm therefore disappointed that the data will not be publicly available and I hope that you will reconsider this decision."

Responding to Mr McArthur's call for the agreement to be ripped up, Mr Yousaf said it would not be possible to do that unilaterally.

READ MORE: Hiding sectarianism statistics makes football fans less safe

"It's not in my gift to just rip up an agreement with a stakeholder that could be potentially actionable if I do that," Mr Yousaf said.

"Rather what I've done this morning is spoken to Neil Doncaster through dialogue and conversation, asked him once again to reconsider the SPFL's objection to that.

"In fairness to Neil Doncaster, he took a very constructive approach to that telephone conversation, has agreed that he'll put that forward to the board at the next board meeting and I hope through that dialogue we get to a place where that data can be very readily published."

HeraldScotland: Humza Yousaf, the transport minister for Scotland, closed the debate

Mr McArthur added: "It seems inconceivable that the Government would sign up to an arrangement that's effectively gagged it by the SPFL.

"The Scottish Government's own independent commission asked for this data to be recorded and published annually to inform a proper public debate.

"Serious conversations about options like strict liability are impossible if the figures are kept secret.

"And that calls into question just how seriously those who have the data are working to life the curse affecting Scottish football."

He added: "I too would like to hear from Neil Doncaster because the SPFL's response has been to date quite frankly pathetic.

"If their response to sectarianism is dependent on secrecy and gagging orders, they don't deserve to be running the game."Football clubs are being urged to take firm action against sectarian abuse that has been directed against fans, players and managers.

READ MORE: Groups tackling ‘toxic bigotry’ of sectarianism to share £530,000

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In February, the then Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke, responding to chants of “sad Fenian b******” that echoed around Ibrox, said it was reminiscent of the “Dark Ages”.

Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager, also hit out after he said Celticfans had branded him a “sad Orange b******” during a Scottish Cup semi-final.

He said: "They'll keep continuing to sing their songs because we don't have the leadership in this country to deal with it.”

However, the spotlight has now shifted to the records of bad behaviour collated by the SPFL, which runs the top four leagues in Scotland, and shared with the Government.

The SPFL has been contacted for comment.