Ukip’s top candidate in Scotland at this week’s European elections has accused Alex Salmond of “sectarian” campaign tactics for visiting a mosque on the election trail last week.
David Coburn claims if he had undertaken a similar visit to a venue such as a Roman Catholic cathedral, he would have faced the same accusation. But last night he was urged to apologise by SNP European candidate Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh who branded Ukip “small-minded and intolerant”.
Mr Salmond himself warned it is now a straight fight between the Nationalists and Ukip for the final Scottish euro seat in Thursday’s election.
The “sectarian” accusation came as Ukip leader Nigel Farage continued to face a storm of criticism following an interview on radio where he suggested that there was a difference between how people should feel if Romanian or German people moved in next door.
Ukip is widely expected to sweep to victory across the UK, but faces another failure in Scotland with the latest polling indicating it will fall short of gaining one of Scotland’s six Euro seats.
However, Mr Coburn, 55, who would be elected if Ukip did manage to snatch the last seat, insisted yesterday that the Nationalists are “extremely rattled” and worried over the inroads which were being made by his party.
He said in an interview with the The Scotsman: “You can see by the way that they’ve dealt with it.
“There was Alex Salmond off down to the mosque. If we had done something like that or gone off to the Roman Catholic cathedral, we would be accused of sectarianism.
“What’s more sectarian than popping off down the mosque and telling everyone they should be voting for [the SNP]?”
The Ukip candidate insists that his party’s support is strong among the Asian community in Scotland.
He said: “Most of the Asian shopkeepers I know of in Glasgow and Asian businessmen are voting for Ukip.”
Ms Ahmed-Sheikh was on the campaign trail in Inverurie with the First Minister yesterday and hit out at the Ukip candidate’s remarks.
She said: “Mr Coburn’s absurd comments prove what we already knew about Ukip – they are a small-minded, intolerant party that must be rejected by Scotland at the ballot box this Thursday.
“The polls show Scotland’s sixth seat in the European Parliament is a clear choice between the SNP and Ukip, and it is very important that Ukip do not get a foothold in Scottish politics.
“Scotland is a diverse, multi-ethnic country and this diversity enriches and strengthens our whole society – something Ukip clearly know nothing about.
“Mr Coburn should do something that his leader is clearly struggling with at present, and apologise for his offensive comments.”
Mr Salmond said voters have a choice between candidate Ms Ahmed-Sheikh and Ukip. He said: “The intolerant message that Ukip is peddling has no place in Scotland and the way in which to keep Ukip’s agenda out of Scottish politics is by voting SNP.
“In our candidate Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh we have the antithesis of everything Ukip stand for. She represents the choice in this election between the new Scotland we want to build and the miserable, anti-European agenda of Ukip and the Westminster parties.”
Despite increased support for the anti-European Union Ukip, which is not yet represented at any level in Scotland, Scots do appear relatively happy with European membership.
An ICM poll for The Scotsman shows 41 per cent of Scottish voters think the UK has benefited from being in the EU compared with 29 per cent who believe it has not benefited.
Scotland is currently represented by six MEPs – two SNP, two Labour, one Tory and one Lib Dem.
Ukip is sitting on about 9 and 10 per cent among Scots, according to weekend polls, which would see it fall short of gaining a seat in Thursday’s vote. But Mr Coburn insisted that he is getting a strong reaction in more working-class areas of Scotland.
He said: “They’re fed-up. They have been let down by the Labour Party, the Conservative Party don’t exist, the Liberal party are a joke and the Scottish Nationalists are not interested in anything expect independence.
“They [the SNP] don’t care about people. It doesn’t matter what happens to the people – their standard of living could drop, the country could go broke, business flees south, jobs go. They don’t care, they just want independence. They don’t care about the Scottish people.”
Glasgow-born Mr Coburn, who has a background in international freight and the antiques trade, attracted criticism earlier this year by saying Glasgow City Council gave the perception that it favoured gays and lesbians.
He also said he thought gay marriage was “rubbing people’s noses in it”.
The impact of Ukip success south of the Border is likely to sway the way many Scots will vote in the referendum, polling for The Scotsman revealed yesterday.
ICM pollsters found 18 per cent of those surveyed would be more likely to vote Yes if Ukip tops the polls across Britain this week, compared with 8 per cent who said they would be more likely to vote No.