OFFICIAL papers have revealed a blistering row between Humza Yousaf and the leader of the Orange Order in Scotland over ‘racist thuggery’ in Glasgow.

The SNP Justice Secretary and Grand Master Jim McHarg clashed over far-right protests about statues in Glasgow’s George Square last month.

Mr Yousaf asked Mr McHarg to condemn the racist behaviour on show, but he refused, saying he hadn't seen evidence of racist behaviour.

An official minute admitted the pair had “strongly differing views on recent events”.

The Scottish Government said it remained in dialogue with the Order but added neutrality on racism was not an option.

Records released under freedom of information show Mr Yousaf had been effusive in his praise of the Orange Order earlier in the year, commending their “good citizenship”.

In a letter to Mr McHarg in April, Mr Yousaf said he was “deeply saddened” to learn that three members of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland had died from coronavirus.

He also said he was “impressed” that lodges in North Lanarkshire had organised hampers and raised money for gifts for hospital patients who were unable to receive visitors.

He thanked the Order “for cancelling marches in the immediate future” due to Covid.

“As you are aware, the strain on public resources at this time of crisis is immense and acts of good citizenship like this are greatly appreciated,” Mr Yousaf wrote. 

The next month, Mr Yousaf wrote to Mr McHarg again to express his “deep concern” that an Orange Hall in Glasgow’s Springburn area had been attacked.

He said it was a “completely unacceptable” act of vandalism, and that those responsible “must be held to account for their actions”. 

He went on: “Scotland is a diverse multi-faith society where everyone has the right to practice their faith peacefully. I fully recognise that the Protestant community continues to contribute to Scottish community life and am well aware that your venues are hugely important for the wellbeing of the people they serve.

“I am aware that the Orange Order have been making a valuable contribution to our efforts to tackle the current crisis and I am extremely grateful for all of your efforts. 

“Please pass on my best wishes to your officials and members during this difficult time.”

However the good relations turned sour after Black Lives Matter demonstrations in mid-June in Glasgow attracted far right counter-demonstrations that led to disorder.

The Loyalist Defence League urged people to gather in George Square to defend statues, and after days of simmering tensions, a protest about the poor living conditions of refugees in Glasgow on June 17 was cut short after violence broke out.

Mr Yousaf tweeted that he had been briefed by the police on the situation, adding: “Let’s not mince our words, this has nothing to do with statues and everything to do with racist thuggery.”

Nicola Sturgeon also condemned the “disgraceful scenes” in the Square, laying the blame on “racist thugs [who] shame Scotland”.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: 'Bunch of racist thugs' should face 'full force' of law after George Square trouble

Two days later, Mr Yousaf and Mr McHarg had a phone call about the protests.

It began with Mr Yousaf complaining Mr McHarg had spoken to the press ahead of their talk, and saying he didn’t accept the Order’s accusation that the Scottish Government was “crushing Protestant protests” in George Square for “political reasons”.

The minutes said Mr McHarg’s “clear view” was that all demonstrations should be banned during the pandemic, and Mr Yousaf said he had urged people not to attend BLM events.

The minute continued: “The Grand Master set out his view that Scottish Government criticism of those involved in the George Square gatherings had been one-sided, focussing on those who had gathered for the purpose of protecting statues. 

“The Cabinet Secretary explained that the focus of his criticism had been on the behaviours of individuals involved. Therefore his key criticism were aimed at those who had used the gatherings to express racist and other offensive views. 

“The Cabinet Secretary noted that he had not seen any evidence that those involved in the protection of statues had been members of the Orange Order, but the evidence had indicated that this group included individuals who claimed some affiliation to Loyalism as well as those involved in far-right politics and high risk football supporters. 

"The Cabinet Secretary invited the Grand Master to similarly criticise such behaviour which was racist, unlawful and discredited those participating.

"This invitation was not accepted.

“The Grand Master told the Cabinet Secretary that he had not seen any evidence of racism during the disorder that had taken place that week. 

“In conclusion it was agreed that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Grand Master had strongly differing views on recent events.”

The FoI release also includes a record of a conversation between Mr Yousaf and Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone on June 18, the day after the Glasgow protest.

It noted there had been “some adverse commentary on the approach and scale of the policing response” to the event.

It said: “The Chief Constable highlighted the difficult nature of the demonstrations, in that these were very diverse groups of people with no single organiser and no single, clear purpose. Police had facilitated the right of protest, albeit that those who were protesting were in contravention of the Covid-19 regulations.” 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are pleased that the Orange Order remains committed to the dialogue process and we continue to have regular engagement with them.

"We also welcomed the voluntary suspension of marches by the Orange Order and other marching organisations at this difficult time when no mass gatherings of any kind should be taking place.

“The Justice Secretary has been clear in his criticism of those who used the gatherings to express racist and other offensive views.

"When there are clear instances of racism we should not attempt to deflect, nor is neutrality an option. Everyone who claims to be anti-racist should firmly speak out against racism in all its forms."