MOST Scots support tough legal measures introduced to ban offensive and threatening behaviour including the use of threats that stoke sectarian and religious hatred at football matches, according to a new opinion poll.

The Panelbase survey of 1,013 Scots, commissioned by the pro-independence group Wings Over Scotland and carried out last week, found 60 per cent of those questioned backed the law that was passed in the Scottish Parliament in 2012.

Backing was lower among Old Firm supporters, but even then most fans were in favour of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. Some 59 per cent of those surveyed in the group who identified themselves as Rangers fans supported the law, while support among Celtic fans was higher at 64 per cent.

Backing was higher among those who supported other football teams, with some 76 per cent in favour of the legislation and just 10 per cent against.

The results of the survey suggest Scottish Labour’s attempt to win over football supporters during the General Election campaign by calling for the law to be repealed was poorly judged.

At the start of the campaign last month, Margaret Curran, Labour’s former Shadow Scottish Secretary and its candidate for Glasgow East, wrote an open letter to football fans calling for the Act to be repealed.

The letter described the Act as “an embarrassment” and called for its repeal to “lift the cloud of suspicion that currently hangs over football fans”.

She wrote: “It has been over three years since the Football Act was passed and in those years there has been no evidence that it has made any positive effect on reducing intolerance and bigotry in Scotland.”

“It was a law in search of a headline and, for the first time, broke down the consensus that had existed between football clubs, fans, political parties and Scottish civil society in the fight to combat sectarianism.”

The Act introduced two new criminal offences: one that criminalises a range of offensive and threatening behaviour, including sectarian behaviour at, or in connection with football matches; and another that criminalises threatening or inciting serious violence and threats that incite religious hatred. The law gives police and prosecutors powers to tackle sectarian songs and other abuse at and around football matches, as well as threats posted on the internet or through the mail.

However, fans, lawyers and civil liberty campaigners have criticised the legislation as unnecessary and confused.

A review into the legislation is due to be published later this year, but yesterday’s survey found just 14 per cent of respondents across all categories were in favour of its abolition.

Support for abolition was strongest among Rangers and Celtic supporters with 29 per cent and 25 per cent in favour of scrapping the Act.

Revealing the poll results on his Wings Over Scotland website, Rev Stuart Campbell wrote: “Murphy’s first policy pronouncements on winning the leadership, supposedly in pursuit of the votes of Glasgow Man, all seemed to be about football, specifically the Offensive Behaviour (Football) Act and the end of the alcohol ban at matches.

“The sport was the passion of Scotland’s biggest city, ran the apparent reasoning, and it had voted Yes, so something had to be done to win the core Labour heartland back.”

Researchers focussed on Glasgow, dividing respondents into Celtic, Rangers, other clubs and people who did not like football.

Of those who took part 16 per cent considered themselves fans of Rangers, 11 per cent of Celtic and 18 per cent of another Scottish club. A further nine per cent identified with a non-Scottish club, and 48 per cent were not interested in football.

The survey found the Rangers fans were the most Unionist, having voted No by almost two to one, but still split almost evenly between the SNP and Labour (41:40 per cent), while Celtic fans (57:23), those of other Scottish clubs (56:25) and those who didn’t like football (46:21) were all much more likely to back the SNP.

On Saturday, football group Fans Against Criminalisation, which claims the Act is “fundamentally illiberal and unnecessarily restricts freedom of expression”, said more than 4,500 people had signed its petition calling for repeal.