FORMER first minister Lord McConnell has accused SNP ministers of allowing the "cancer" of sectarianism to grow in Scotland again.

The Labour peer said progress made under his leadership had been "reversed by my successors". 

It comes after police made several arrests after "racist and sectarian singing" took place during Orange walks which shut streets across Glasgow and led to condemnation of anti-Catholic bigotry.

Lord McConnell, who was First Minister from 2001 to 2007, was praised for his efforts to crack down on sectarianism while in office.

In comments reported in The Sunday Times, he said: "Those who say there is no problem of sectarianism or religious hatred in Scotland need to take their heads out the sand.

"I am really disappointed that the progress we were making between 2002 and 2007 was reversed by my successors. 

"We had the churches, schools, employers, police and football clubs all working together. 

"I tried to respect everyone involved but engage them in change.

"The action plans, particularly those at Rangers and Celtic, were making a real difference. 

"Leadership directed at cultural change was working. From joint-campus schools to agreements on marches and parades, common sense and decency was winning. 

"But 14 years of occasional outrage followed by no action have allowed this cancer to grow again."

Lord McConnell added: "Those who have power, at all levels, must use their power to attack the culture of fear and hatred. 

"The First Minister must reconvene the summits, demand action in football, parades and other areas that divide us, and unite Scotland to say 'no more' together.

"To achieve that, leaders must engage with all sides and be prepared to stay engaged over the long term to root it out properly."

A Scottish Government spokesman said it condemns "all forms of sectarianism, prejudice and racism". 

He said: "There is no place in a modern Scotland for such expressions of hatred and we are determined to do everything we can to tackle all forms of prejudice.

“Before the end of the year we will publish a progress report on our action plan on ‘tackling prejudice and building connected communities’.  

"Building on progress, we will work with stakeholders to develop a new hate crime strategy that will be published next year. 

"It includes implementation of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 and maintains current legislative protections against racially-motivated offending (which apply to all forms of racial offending including anti-Irish racism) and offences aggravated by religious hatred."

The spokesman said the Scottish Government has invested £15 million in work to tackle sectarianism since 2012.