UKIP has been as plunged into a racism storm within hours of launching its Holyrood election campaign after pictures emerged of a prominent party activist cavorting with a "blacked up" face.

Supporters attending Nigel Farage's election and manifesto launch were greeted by Jack Neill, who stood for Ukip in Fife in last year's General Election.

But the clean cut young activist looks very different in a series of shocking personal snaps obtained by The Herald.

In one, which appears to have been taken in a shower, he smirks into the camera with his face blacked up and wearing a red clown's nose.

Race equality campaigners condemned the pictures while political opponents called on Ukip to sever ties with the former candidate.

A series of pictures show Mr Neill, a student at the University of the West of Scotland, with his face painted black.

In one - which has also been used on his Facebook page - he adds a curly wig and bow tie to the get-up, as he poses with a mug in front of a Union flag.

Other snaps show him posing alongside Ukip's Scottish leader David Coburn, pint of lager in hand, wearing a grey wig and false moustache.

Mr Neill was given a key role as Mr Farage and Mr Coburn launched the party's Holyrood manifesto at an Edinburgh hotel yesterday.

He greeted supporters and members of the media at the door and handed out copies of the glossy, 30-page election prospectus.

Confronted by The Herald, he confirmed he had posed for the pictures.

But he said: "It was a joke. It was nothing to do with the party.

"It was something that one does in their spare time. It was for entertainment purposes."

Asked why he was not standing for Holyrood, he said: "I chose not to."

Nabirye Balyejusa, manager of SCOREScotland, an anti-racism project in Edinburgh, said: "Mr Neill is simply dredging up negative black stereotypes and his behaviour is quite hateful.

"This kind of conduct keeps the everyday, drip, drip racism alive and well.

"It makes the work we do, for example, with our young people to build their self-esteem and self-confidence that much harder."

She added: "Blackening faces for a laugh and entertainment is riddled with negative and extremely offensive connotations as far as we are concerned.

"It is nothing more than an excuse to make cheap fun at black people."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats said: "There is nothing funny about this, Jack Neill should apologise and UKIP should suspend him immediately.

"Political parties should be celebrating the diverse backgrounds of Scots, not encouraging people who think taking snaps of themselves in racist poses is acceptable on any level."

Mr Neill - or "Union Jack" on social media - describes himself as half Mexican.

Last year he was pictured in a newspaper wearing a sombrero in protest at a university's decision to ban students from wearing the wide-brimmed Mexican hat on campus, on the grounds it was was racist.

On Facebook he says he is a criminal justice student at UWS, a Ukip activist, a "devout British Unionist," and an Army reservist.

Standing in Gordon Brown's old constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath last May, he polled 1237 votes, finishing fourth but beating the LibDem candidate.

Mr Coburn, who is also Ukip's MEP for Scotland,

said: "I know nothing about it to be honest.

"I'll find out and get back to you."

He failed to provide further comment.

Mr Coburn and Mr Farage were the main speakers at event to launch Ukip's election campaign.

Mr Farage said Ukip was the real "independence party in Scotland" and claimed a breakthrough for the party in the Holyrood elections would transform the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union

Ukip's policies included a guarantee of weekly bin collections.

Explaining the move, Mr Coburn said: "We don't want the whole place infested with rats.

"We don't want to see Scotland turned into Cairo or something like that."