Bigots bill broadened further

The Scottish government is, once more, broadening the scope of its initiatives against sectarianism - while simultaneously narrowing the terms of the bill which aims to tackle bigotry connected to football.

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Image caption Opposition parties claim the legislation is too limited

And has this dual strategy impressed the SNP's principal opponents at Holyrood? Not so you'd notice.

A few details first. Roseanna Cunningham, the minister responsible for this issue, has devoted £3m a year for three years to be spent on "tackling the root causes of sectarianism" through schools, community initiatives and other methods.

This is designed to answer complaints that the football bill is too limited, that it fails to address the wider problem of sectarianism in Scotland.

The move has been welcomed by the SNP's opponents.

At the same time, ministers have moved to amend the bill in committee in order to enable "freedom of expression" with regard to discussion of religion - as long as the content is not threatening or likely to cause public disorder.

From early efforts at consensus, we have now arrived at a situation where all the opposition parties are agin the bill.

Labour, in particular, abstained from votes in committee amendments, suggesting that the proposed legislation is irremediable in its present form.

Which, as it stands, leaves the SNP legislating alone - and, consequently, taking any consequent political opprobrium alone.

Not, it would appear, a comfortable place to be, on an issue like this which, by definition, stirs such passion.

Is Alex Salmond fretting? Again, not so you would notice. Indeed, if anything, Mr Salmond appears angry and determined, rather than worried and distressed.

His position has palpably strengthened on this. He is convinced by the evidence, from the police but most notably from the Lord Advocate, that there is a real gap in existing law and, more importantly, court disposals with regard to measures to tackle football bigotry.

Further, he believes that the measures, once enacted, will come to be seen as mere common sense in five years time after their implementation has become standard.

Labour and other opposition parties take the alternative view.

They say that the proposed law is too imprecise, that it could cause more problems than it solves. They say dump it - and start again in discussion with churches, communities and others.

And, of course, there are political motivations - a point which will be routinely denied by all sides.

Alex Salmond was sensitive to claims that he had let slip the anti-sectarianism initiatives taken by his predecessor, Jack McConnell.

As so often, this is about presentation.

In vain did Mr Salmond protest that his government was maintaining support for practical action in this field.

The impression gained ground that Mr Salmond attached a lower overall priority to the issue. I believe that played a part - a subterranean part - in driving forward the bill.

Next let us consider more immediate partisan motivations. Do you think that Mr Salmond's political opponents relish the prospect that it is the SNP, alone, who will now face criticism from segments of those who purport to follow what the first minister is pleased to call "the beautiful game"?

Do you think Mr Salmond's opponents relish the prospect that the SNP is now isolated on this topic? Yes, I thought that might be your answer.