Scottish independence: Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon split on Yes supporters' 'BBC bias' protest

SNP leadership divided on Sunday's demonstration

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A split has emerged between the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, over the protests mounted by Yes supporters outside BBC offices against alleged bias in its reporting of the referendum.

Backing the demonstration, the First Minister said there were concerns about lack of a balance by the Corporation and insisted the action had been “peaceful and joyous”.

But Ms Sturgeon struck a different note as she urged Yes supporters to channel their energies into “not protesting against something but campaigning for something”.

The BBC was cast into the spotlight after a clash last week between Mr Salmond and Nick Robinson, the corporation’s political editor, who accused him of failing to answer a question.

The BBC was hit by a torrent of complaints over perceived bias culminating in a 2,000-strong march on its Glasgow offices with protesters calling for Robinson to be sacked.

The National Union of Journalists condemned the “increase in intimidation and bullying” of journalists covering the campaign. It said: “There is an increasing trend towards the intimidation of BBC journalists, who are working hard to hold politicians of all sides to account in the referendum debate.”

Mr Salmond, who has accused the BBC of “institutional bias” over its coverage, said: “I think there's real public concern in terms of some of the nature and balance of the coverage.

“We must allow people to express a view in a peaceful and joyous fashion, that’s part of the democratic aspects of politics.”

But Ms Sturgeon, campaigning in Hamilton, emphasised that the protest had not been organised by Yes Scotland.

She said: “I’m very clear in my view that we’ve now got three days to the referendum and I would say to all to all Yes supporters that we should spend every moment of those three days not protesting against something but campaigning for something, for a yes vote to give us the power to transform our country.”

Prior to last week, complaints to the BBC about bias had been running fairly evenly between the two sides, the Independent understands.

No campaigners have accused it of going soft on Mr Salmond during the second televised clash with Better Together leader Alistair Darling last month and of selectively highlighting polls that suggested momentum was with pro-independence campaigners.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "We believe our coverage of the referendum has been rigorously impartial and in line with our guidelines on fairness and impartiality."