THE truth about the scale of Scottish football’s sectarianism problem can be found on a Scottish Government spreadsheet. It may seem from the outside as if there has been a sense of drift on this topic in recent times, but every example of sectarian or “illicit” chanting which has been recorded by SPFL match delegates since the start of last season has been logged and shared with Police Scotland and Holyrood.

In a sense that is quite appropriate: because it is politicians who may be required to instigate any fresh attempt to tackle the problem flagged up by an emotional Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke on Wednesday night, or experienced by his striker Kris Boyd from visiting Celtic fans at Rugby Park on Sunday.

And legislators are mainly still licking their wounds after the Scottish Government’s previous attempts to act in this area ended in embarrassment when the Offensive Behaviour in Football and Threatening Communications Act. Passed by the then-majority SNP government in 2011, it was defeated and taken off the statute book in April 2018.

Until the data on that spreadsheet is made public, assessing the scale of Scotland’s problem with offensive behaviour at football matches remains a problematic exercise.

While the fans themselves presented a united front against that legislation – they felt they had been unfairly targeted – in 2016-17 there were a total of 377 charges for offensive behaviour at football grounds. While this was a 32 per cent increase on the 2015-16 tally of 286, that could largely be accounted for from the Scottish Cup final disorder between Hibs and Rangers at Hampden.

The SPFL still have a fleet of match delegates under orders to report such issues back to the board – they came on board from the old SPL – the only difference is that charges very rarely arise from them.

That is because the clubs themselves, including Kilmarnock, voted by a landslide against adopting a strict liability scheme for dealing with these issues back at the Scottish FA AGM in May 2013.

You will have already heard calls in the last few hours no doubt for that idea to be re-floated, by BBC pundit Michael Stewart amongst others, but there was little appetite for the clubs the last time it came around and nothing appears to have changed.

With point penalties potentially among the list of sanctions, what is to stop an interloper from a rival team hiding amongst the support with a pocket full of pound coins and instigating trouble which might lead to a sanction?

So what does all of this mean? Well, that as long as clubs can demonstrate they are doing everything possible to stop sectarian chanting and other forms of offensive behaviour from happening, no action is likely to follow.

Whether or not it caused match delegates not to report the instances, it made football writers stop writing about it. Because nothing ever seemed to come of it.

So that’s that, then? Well, not exactly. Just perhaps attitudes are hardening towards tackling the matter head on again.

The wording in both the SFA and SPFL’s rulebook was actually tightened up last summer, allowing for action to follow if the authorities aren’t satisfied that clubs are in fact doing everything in their power to crack down on this area.

The inference of this is that a sharply-issued statement after an incident may no longer be enough anymore. Life bans, such as those Millwall are handing out for racist abuse in their FA Cup tie against Everton, might be a clearer way to persuade everyone that no stone is being left unturned.

For now though, as things stand, the person most likely to face retrospective action as a result of what went on at Ibrox on Wednesday night is probably Clarke himself.

His scathing comments in relation to referee Alan Muir, and how the match official “decided the outcome” of the game may well come to the attention of compliance officer Clare Whyte, although it could be after the weekend as fast track procedure is required.

The SFA operate a similar match delegate procedure when it comes to their Scottish Cup ties and the first step will be the report back to Peter McLaughlin, the SFA’s head of security and integrity. As of yesterday afternoon nothing had been received by the association.

While there were the statements you might expect from both SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster and his SFA counterpart Ian Maxwell yesterday, only time will tell whether anything tangible will change.

Rightly or wrongly, in some ways, some of these recent flare-ups seem more flagrant because they have occurred outwith the tribal confines of the Old Firm rivalry. Steve Clarke has never previously brought his background into the public domain. Likewise Derek McInnes, who was the target of chants from Celtic fans even as the Parkhead side won the BetFred Cup final this season.

“We condemn all unacceptable conduct and are fully committed to working with our clubs, the Scottish FA, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government towards preventing such incidents at SPFL matches and responding appropriately where they do occur,” said Doncaster yesterday. “We and our member clubs have already taken significant steps in this area and will continue to play our part in helping to tackle this wider, societal problem. We welcome Rangers’ recent pledge to do everything possible to eradicate this kind of behaviour.

“I recently met with Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell, Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf, Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing Joe Fitzpatrick and Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Bernie Higgins to discuss unacceptable conduct in football and how we can work even more closely together in this area.

“This follows an agreement with the Scottish Government at the beginning of last season, which sees us collate and share information at regular intervals with both the Scottish Government and Police Scotland regarding incidents of unacceptable conduct at SPFL matches. We will continue our efforts to work with all key stakeholders to effectively address instances of unacceptable conduct in Scottish football.”

Maxwell said: “The Scottish FA condemns in the strongest possible terms the spate of incidents this season involving unacceptable conduct in Scottish football. This season we have witnessed match officials and players hit by coins, sectarian singing at matches and abusive and threatening behaviour towards match officials, players, managers and coaching staff. This behaviour is completely unacceptable and simply has no place in football, or indeed Scottish society.

“Football has a responsibility to take action. We must do all we can under our current rules and engage with clubs to seek to eradicate such behaviour. This issue, however, is not one that football can solve on its own. We will seek further discussions in light of the most recent events to maintain the momentum for change.”