THOUGH pitifully small in number and clearly bolstered by fascists groups from England, the Scottish Defence League’s rally in Wishaw at the weekend sparked an angry backlash from anti-racists.

The event follows similar protests by the extremists in Edinburgh and Alloa, where refugees were targeted.

On Saturday around 30 angry white men from the SDL, many of them wearing balaclavas and masks, took over Wishaw town centre.

The whole event lasted less than an hour, with huge numbers of police escorting the SDL from the train station to the high street, where for 45 minutes they shouted that refugees weren’t welcome, and carried signs with sickening right- wing messages. Some snapped out Nazi salutes.

Their presence sparked a furious and significantly larger counter-protest.

Members of the Yes Bikers drove past the Nazis, and revved their engines drowning their chants out.

Some anti-fascists reportedly ran at the SDL when they were walking back to the station, forcing the skin heads to cower behind police vans.

After the protest, the SDL claimed the event had been a success. On their Facebook, the hate-filled racists claimed: “Well done to all the SDL and other patriots who supported our Wishaw demo today.

“Very successful day for us, amazing response from the public with many of them joining our demo and others cheering us on from the sidelines, lots of new supporters and people wanting to join us on future demos.

“So much for Antifa stopping us leaving the train station, cowards who are full of threats but never have the balls to carry them out.”

Reports claimed the man leading the protest was Steven Wright, who praised the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.

Labour justice spokeswoman Claire Baker MSP said it was time to look at giving police the ability to stop protests like the SDL’s taking over a town for a day and causing disruption.

She said: “Our police officers do a fantastic job but it is important to make sure they have the powers necessary to keep the public safe.

“Police forces in England and Wales have been given the power to control small but volatile protests like this and the Scottish Government should give consideration to doing the same.”

Donna McCallum, who lives locally, said: “We’re too small a town to have a protest like this. This should not have happened.

“People going about with their faces covered, it’s very intimidating. You don’t know who they are.”

Part of the blame for the inflamed tensions in Wishaw has been laid at the feet of former Labour councillor Sam Love, who claimed Syrian refugees were getting houses with “front and back doors,” while locals languish on the housing waiting list for years.

Thirty-seven Syrian families have moved into the area since 2015.

Labour council leader Jim Logue said: “[The SDL] came because a former Labour councillor said Syrian refugees here as part of the UK resettlement programme should not be offered the same housing as residents in Wishaw.

“I found that completely objectionable. We were the first council in Scotland to participate in the resettlement programme, taking in Congolese refugees in 2007. As a result of that councillor’s irresponsible and disgusting comments, the SDL saw an opportunity to come here and attempt to stoke up racial hatred. They’re not welcome.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said they were engaging “with all parties, including Police Scotland and local authorities, to further improve the management of marches, parades and demonstrations across Scotland.”

No arrests were made.