ORANGE Order leaders will be “holding their heads in their hands”, a leading expert has said as as police step up a hate crime probe in to a Glasgow attack on a priest.

Scotland’s Grand Lodge has already condemned what it called “bigoted actions” when Canon Tom White was spat on, abused and threatened during a parade through the city’s east end on Saturday.

But Michael Rosie, a member of the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism, said the movement’s leaders would be reeling from heightened public concern.

Dr Rosie said: “If I were a leader of the Orange Order, I would be holding my head in my hands this weekend.

“There was a huge undertaking by the Orange Order and the police and the council on Saturday and there were four arrests.

“That is way down on the kind of number of arrests we would have had in the 1980s and even 1990s.

“But despite that there is an incident, a horrific incident, that, of course shocks people. That is not what the Orange Order want. They don’t want the pressure and the criticism and some of the abuse thrown at them.

“They want their day and to do their thing, unfurl their banners and bang their drums.”

Police said “there is nothing to indicate any involvement of a member from the parade” but it remains one line of inquiry. Much of the discussion of bad behaviour around Orange marches in recent years has focused on the behaviour of “hangers-on” rather than actual participants, who are marshalled.

Canon White told BBC Radio Scotland that he was called “Fenian scum” and a “paedophile” during the incident, which took place when police officers who had been stationed outside his church, St Alphonsus, were called to deal with another incident.

The Archdiocese of Glasgow asked why the Orange Order is allowed to schedule “intimidating parades on streets containing Catholic churches at times when people are trying to get in and out for Mass?”

Many Glaswegians responded with anger to the incident - and at ongoing marches. The actor John Hannah tweeted that he was ashamed of the city. He said the parade allowed some to “displaying their narrow minded blinkered version of fascism for the whole world to see”.

Dr Rosie, however, said there was no legal prospect of ending all Orange marches. But The Grand Lodge, he suggested, could engage on ways of dealing with hangers-on or parade “followers”, provided they were approached in the right way.

Superintendent John McBride of Police Scotland appealed to anyone on the march who saw anything to come forward.

He said: “The public can be assured we remain committed to ridding our country of hate crime and the bigots within it who think they won’t be held to account for their actions. I can tell you they will.”

Police said they were looking for a man aged 20 to 30 with a shaved head and also confirmed they were investigating reports somebody was seen trying to hit Canon White with a baton.

Mr McBride added: “From our enquiries carried out so far, we are aware of several people commenting online regarding this incident and I would urge anyone with any footage or information about this particular incident to contact us as the footage could aid our enquiries."

“I am also appealing to those who were taking part in the Orange Parade, who may have seen the incident as they were walking past, to contact us and pass on any information. Any small detail could prove vital to identifying whoever is responsible.”

The force itself came under fire on social media with several conspiracy theorists making serious but completely unsubstantiated claims of police and SNP bias against Catholics.

A former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow, Michael Kelly, a passionate unionist, used the events to claim the SNP would not act on sectarianism. “Don’t expect them to do anything about anti-Catholic assaults,” he tweeted. Mr Kelly also claimed the police had “dismissed” the assault as “minor” - in fact a technical term. He then added: “But we know who they report to.”