Their policies are more BNP than SNP. But Italy’s hard right Lega Nord or "Northern League" just can’t get over its unrequited love of Scotland and Alex Salmond.

The party – which flirts with supporting full independence for a swathe of northern Italy – was waxing lyrical about Scottish nationalism again last week. Its leader Roberto Maroni seized on referendums scheduled for Scotland and mooted for Catalunya.

"What has happened in Catalunya and Scotland and what I hope will happen in our regions is exactly the same: we want to change Europe," he told Barcelona’s La Vanguardia.

Now Maroni is new. The former Interior minister replaced the Lega’s founder Umberto Bossi – a core ally of Silvio Berlusconi - this summer after a massive corruption and nepotism scandal.

The new boss talks of a Europe of regions and communities, including the chunk of northern Italy that the Lega Nord – but nobody else - calls "Padania". This, at first hearing, might sound perfectly palatable to civic nationalists ruling in Barcelona or Edinburgh.

But the Lega Nord is nothing like the SNP. It is Eurosceptic, more than borderline racist and overtly Islamophobic. It campaigns against Muslims moving to Italy using posters of Native Americans.

"They had immigration once," goes the slogan under a picture of a Hollywood-style Indian chief in full headdress. “Now they live on reservations. Think about it." The rhetoric of some its leaders about Scotland can be eye-watering. Take Lega MEP Mario Borghezio. Back in 2007 Mr Borghezio welcomed Alex Salmond’s as part of a victory against the “Islamification” and “Turkification” of Europe, whatever that means. Admittedly, the Leghista, as party members are known,  was later suspended for praising some of the manifesto of Norwegian psycho killer Anders Breivik. The convicted thug – whose heroes include Bosnian Serb commander Radko Mladic – isn’t the only one of the Leghisti, to sound, well, nuts.

Northern Italy was once firmly Celtic. Until the Romans conquered the local Gauls. Two thousand years later some Leghisti still refer to themselves as “slaves of Rome” and readily boast of their Celtic roots.

Party symbols look like something off the cover of a 1970s folk British folk rock group. They have even concocted strange 'Celticky' rituals, such as supping from a cup of water at the source of the Po, the river whose valley gives them the name 'Padania'. Of course, Italy, which was united just a century and a half ago, is a nation of proud regional identities.

Particularist sentiment, especially in places like Venice, is genuinely strong. But it doesn’t usually extend over an area as big as Padania, a term which was only popularised in the mid-1990s. Hence such yearning for a collective northern Italian difference, for Celticness, that may explain some of the Lega’s SNP sympathies.

But the Leghisti, who share a whip in the European Parliament with British Eurosceptics UKIP, also appear to be trying to build links with other 'nationalist' and regionalist movements, Celtic or not.

Last month Maroni sent some of the Lega’s youth wing to the million-strong demonstration on Catalan national day, La Diada. The group’s banner – "Padania is not Italy" – perhaps borrowing from Catalan nationalist publicity material declaring that "Catalonia is not Spain".

The slogan was seen again in Edinburgh in late September, swept along amid a sea of Saltires and Lion Rampants at the March and Rally for Independence in the Meadows. Some Leghisti, grinning cheesily above clutched Saltires and Venetian flags, were pictured in a local newspaper in Padua, Il Mattino di Padova.

"We went to Scotland," one of them, Massimo Bitonci, a Lega councillor and deputy, told the paper, "as representatives of an oppressed people who are denied self-determination and the struggle for freedom."

This is not the kind of victim rhetoric you hear in Scotland, except perhaps on the outer rim of the Twittersphere. But Mr Bitonci’s views have already made international headlines.

The politician was behind a curious ban on kebab shops in the historic heart of the beautiful walled city of Cittadella, near Padua. Why? To preserve real local foods, he told Il Mattino di Padova in a story picked up around the world. And because he didn’t like the smell. And, he hinted, the people who bought kebabs.

So what does the active support of kebab-banning Islamophobes mean for the SNP and Scotland’s referendum? Well, nothing, I hope. Scottish nationalists can hardly be blamed if foreigners with unpalatable views praise them. But here’s is a wee thought, a very wee one.  And, as always, I am happy to be corrected if I am overstating it.

Could Italy’s own issue with the Lega Nord be colouring the nation’s views of Scotland’s referendum? Alex Salmond was described in a mainstream magazine, Panorama, as "Umberto Bossi in a checked skirt", according to Edinburgh University’s Guy Puzey, who wrote on the European right’s love for the SNP for Scottish Left Review some years ago.

The First Minister has since been feted in right-wing northern newspapers and – at times – lampooned in left-leaning ones. The conservative Panorama, for example, called Mr Salmond "Il Braveheart" when details of the referendum were announced in January.

Rome’s lefty La Repubblica put it differently:  "He looks less like Braveheart and more like Chief O’Hara, the corpulent and easy-going police chief in Mickey Mouse cartoons," it declared. To be fair, Repubblica also spoke of Mr Salmond’s "brilliant mind" and "steely determination".

Meanwhile, the Lega’s interest in Scotland is starting to wear on Italians who know our country better than Bossi and Maroni.

"I am horrified that these people are latching on to Scotland and the SNP, who, I hope, will have nothing to do with them," said Daniela Sacerdoti, an Italian novelist living in Glasgow. "They are developing some kind of warped Lord of the Rings view of Europe where they are one of the Celtic tribes along with the Scots and the Irish. They like to listen to Celtic music and dress in tartan and kilts….but in truth their philosophy is racist and Islamophobic."

Italians, of course, are not alone in mistakenly assuming the SNP is a rightist, narrowly ethnic nationalist movement. But the Scottish party appears to be moving to correct this misapprehension.

As I reported in this blog a view months ago, one SNP leader has a simple message. "We are not Nationalists," Westminster MP Angus Robertson, told a Vienna paper this summer. And, of course, he was right, at least in German. Because his party is nothing like the thuggish nationalists of Austria. Or northern Italy for that matter.

But do Scottish nationalists really want kebab-ban bigots at their marches?