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

The First Minister said the opposition parties’ 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.”

Earlier this week, it was 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.

“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.”

MSPs 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”.