NICOLA Sturgeon has blamed the opposition parties at Holyrood for a recent upsurge in sectarian trouble that has led to increased assaults on the police.

The First Minister said the opposition’s repeal of a law designed to stop religious bigotry at football matches last year had sent “entirely the wrong signal”.

She told MSPs: “We now have to deal with the consequences."

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Earlier this week, the Herald revealed assaults against police officers has risen by a third amid increased sectarian tensions.

More than 563 officers were hurt as a result of assaults between April and June, an increase of 32 per cent on the same period in 2018.

Police were forced to respond to sectarian violence in Glasgow last month as Loyalist and Republican marchers and protesters clashed.

At First Minister’s Questions, SNP MSP Kenny Gibson asked if Mr Sturgeon thought the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act had “sent a signal that behaviour considered unacceptable just a couple of years ago is somehow less reprehensible”.

She replied: “Yes, I agree with Kenny Gibson. I’ve consistently said that the repeal of the Act in my opinion sent entirely the wrong signal.

“The Scottish Government resisted appeal because no viable alternative was offered at that time, and as we have clearly seen since, the issue of sectarianism at football has not gone away.

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“Repealing the Act rather than seeking to strengthen it took away important protections to help us address the issue, and we now have to deal with the consequences because of this.

“The tactics used by Police Scotland to police events and parades are obviously an operational matter for the Chief Constable. However I know that all police officers receive regular officer safety training, and all public order officers receive additional training and have access to enhanced protective equipment.”

Ms Sturgeon added: "Nobody should be the victim of abuse or violence while at work. Attacks against our police officers despicable and the perpetrators must be dealt with in the strongest possible way.

“There is a wide range of powers available to tackle such crimes and we fully support the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in dealing robustly with perpetrators.”

She said those convicted of assaulting emergency service workers could be jailed for up to 12 months or fined £10,000 or both, and new restitution orders would add more fines.

MSs voted 62-60 to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act in March 2018, seven years after it was introduced in response to a spate of sectarian incidents at games.

Backed by fan groups, Labour MSP James Kelly led the repeal, arguing the legislation treated football fans as second class citizens and was unnecessary given the other laws available for punishing disorderly behaviour.

He said at the time that he was delighted to see the end of “the worst piece of legislation in Scottish Parliament history”.