THERE was considerable pain for the SNP last night after their flagship anti-bigotry policy suffered a defeat in the Scottish Parliament.

MSPs voted 65-61 to repeal the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

The legislation, though popular with the public, has often proved controversial with fans.

SNP MSP James Dornan warned the defeat would “erode the powers our police have to tackle bigotry” and accused the opposition of putting politics ahead of fighting sectarianism.

But Labour’s James Kelly, whose Members’ Bill challenging the Act was voted on last night, described it as a blow for “discredited legislation which has failed to make any progress in tackling sectarianism”.

The repeal Bill will now move on to further consideration at committee level before a final vote of all MSPs.

The act was passed in 2011 by the then majority Scottish Government, following an ill-tempered Old Firm game that saw 34 arrests inside the stadium.

Only SNP members originally supported the Bill, and there has been a strong desire among opposition politicians to have the legislation binned.

During yesterday’s debate Tory MSP Liam Kerr said it was not legislation that would challenge bigotry: “We need an enduring change in culture and attitude, but that happens in homes, classrooms, communities. It is facilitated by the world of charities and third sector organisations such as Nil by Mouth, and we need to see and support more of that community led activity.”

Speaking afterwards Kelly said: “It is time for the SNP Government to listen to the will of Parliament and get behind repeal. Instead of continuing to pursue this broken law, it must work to unify parties, anti-sectarian organisations, faith groups and education leaders, and start taking the problem of sectarianism seriously.

“For too long the SNP has hidden behind the Football Act and pretended it is some sort of silver bullet.”

But Dornan said he worried about what scrapping the act would do: “The vote this evening is deeply concerning, with James Kelly’s repeal Bill set to erode the powers our police have to tackle bigotry in order to land a political blow.

“Mr Kelly is a politician doggedly pursuing a self-serving agenda – and now opposition parties have joined him in being deaf to the views of the vast majority of people and stakeholder groups across Scotland.

“At a time when the SNP Government is focused on education, health, jobs, the economy and protecting Scotland’s place in Europe, Richard Leonard and James Kelly would rather see us remove legislation that tackles sectarianism, prejudice and discrimination whilst offering no alternative in its place.”

Fans Against Criminalisation, a group of football supporters campaigning in favour of the repeal, said they were delighted with the result.

“A huge step forward on the road to repeal. We are now within touching distance,” they tweeted.

Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing said it was a “sad day for Scotland”.

She added: “We are resolute in our determination to combat bigotry, homophobia, racism and offensive behaviour targeting people for simply being who they are.

“It’s not acceptable, and we want the people of Scotland to know we have their back.”