Alex Salmond has been accused of "surrounding himself with Yes men" after hosting an "international press conference" where audience members clapped him as he responded to questions.
Taking questions in Edinburgh today, the Scottish first minister was applauded as he poured scorn on BBC political editor Nick Robinson's impartiality and accused him of "heckling".
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw told the Huffington Post UK: “Considering the eyes of the world are now on Scotland, this was an utterly embarrassing episode.
“The foreign media must have wondered what was going on when the activist corps joined the press one. The First Minister looked like a man in danger of losing the plot, and his conduct – and that of organisers – transformed an opportunity to interrogate Alex Salmond into a laughable circus in front of a global audience.”
The Yes Scotland pro-independence campaign admitted that "a small number" of supporters had been invited along with around 200 journalists, with a spokesperson adding: "While the guests may have been clapping, I am assured some of the journalists also added to the applause."
A Scottish Liberal Democrat source said: "Either Nick Robinson is the world's most hated journalist or the audience was packed to the rafters with nationalists.
"We know Alex Salmond likes to surround himself with Yes men but this takes spin to a whole new level. What's next, subliminal messages in press releases?"
The "bizarre" press conference drew bemused reactions from journalists on Twitter, with one branding the applause for Salmond "sycophantic".
Salmond asks for a "reverse question" to the BBC, to sycophantic applause.
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) September 11, 2014
Salmond attacks the BBC and there is laughter/applause from foreign press. This is a very strange press conference. #indyref
— Alan Roden (@AlanRoden) September 11, 2014
BBC journalist Robert Rea described it as "astonishing", asking: "Who brings supporters into a press conference?"
@BrettRoryThomas just heard that. Astonishing. Who brings supporters into a press conference?
— Robert Rea (@robertrea) September 11, 2014
Are these people applauding Alex Salmond at his 'international press conference' journalists?
— Ned Simons (@nedsimons) September 11, 2014