A UKIP activist who sparked a race row after he “blacked up” has been branded a “berk”, an “idiot” and a “prat” by his own party.

Student Jack Neill, who is a former Ukip Westminster candidate, faces an investigation by the University of the West of Scotland after pictures emerged of him cavorting with his face painted black while wearing a red clown nose and a multi-coloured wig.

The criminal justice student – who greeted visitors to his party’s Holyrood election manifesto launch this week – has insisted the personal pictures were just a joke and for “entertainment purposes”.

But after seeing the pictures, a spokesman for the University of the West of Scotland said a formal investigation would follow. 

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Ukip has previously suffered embarrassments from racist candidates, activists and supporters and moved to dampen the furore around Mr Neill, who calls himself “Union Jack” on social media.

However, party spokesman Gawain Towler insisted the student had been a foolish youngster and bemoaned the current trend of political correctness.

Mr Towler said: “He’s a kid. He’s an idiot. He is pulling silly faces on his Facebook page, sitting in his bathroom with a silly clown nose on. He put a face mask on his face surrounded by bubbles. But it is in no way malicious, no way racist.

“He should be aware of how things look. But this is not malicious in any way. If the University of the West of Scotland wishes to investigate they will find anordinary student behaving in an ordinary way, in the safe space of his own bathroom.

“He’s a berk. He’s a prat. But does it deserve the caterwauling of the politically correct? No. We’ll slap his wrist for being a berk but there was no malice in it. If people want to condemn him it says more about them and the level of their politics than it does about this young lad.”

Anti-racism groups have already condemned Mr Neill, who in his own defence 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.”

The SNP was not satisfied with that explanation. The party said: “Ukip are a party whose intolerance, xenophobia and prejudice are never far below the surface, so these revelations are sadly not too surprising. But there can be no place for racism or racist conduct of any kind in Scottish politics and the party should take immediate action against any of its members who engage in such behaviour.”

Ross Greer, Europe spokesman for the Scottish Greens and MSP candidate for the West of Scotland, said: “How anyone can be surprised that the party of Farage and Coburn is chock full of racists is beyond us. These bigoted time-wasters should be given all the attention they deserve – none.”

A spokesman for the University of the West of Scotland said: “We have an excellent reputation as an inclusive institution, with a commitment to supporting people regardless of age, disability, gender identity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. We will tackle discrimination and prejudice where they are found to exist and a formal investigation under the University’s Code of Discipline will now be taken forward.”