04/02/2012 08:06 GMT | Updated 04/02/2012 08:16 GMT

Alex Salmond BBC Six Nations Rugby Ban 'Bonkers', Claim Upset SNP Politicians

SNP politicians have hit out at the BBC for its decision to withdraw an invitation to Scottish first minister Alex Salmond to sit on a panel during its coverage of Scotland's Six Nations Rugby match with England on Saturday afternoon.

According to The Sun the SNP leader had been booked to appear on the programme alongside ex-Scotland international Andy Nicol and former England player Jeremy Guscott.

But the paper reports that he was axed at the last minute after BBC bosses feared he would use the platform to offer his opinions on Scottish independence, despite having given reassurances that he would steer clear of politics.

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine asked on Twitter whether the policy would extend to other political leaders commenting on sport.

John Finnie, the SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands, complained that the broadcaster's "ill-considered withdrawal" of its invite to the first minister to be part of the rugby coverage today did not feature on the BBC Scotland lunchtime news.

And Pete Wishart, the SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire branded the decision "appalling".

"The Beeb need to get a grip of their coverage," he said.

But a spokesperson for the BBC said it would be "inappropriate" given the current debate about the future of the United Kingdom.

"The BBC's obligation is to ensure it achieves due impartiality across all its output," they said.

"Given the nature of political debate around Scotland's future and the proximity of local government elections in Scotland, it was decided that it would be inappropriate to give undue prominence at the moment to any single political leader in the context of the Scotland-England game."

In a statement issued on Saturday, the SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP said the decision was "bonkers" and said it was the sort of thing he would expect to see in a "banana republic" rather than in the United Kingdom.

"The serious issue here is the BBC’s excuse about the ‘political debate around Scotland’s future’ – which will be underway for the next two-and-a-half years," he said.

Are they suggesting that Scotland’s First Minister is to be banned from ‘business as usual’ programming by the BBC’s political bosses in London until 2014?

"The BBC is Scotland’s national broadcaster, and these are serious questions which raise important issues about the BBC’s coverage of the referendum – which must be fair, impartial and consistent to all participants, and at all times.

"The concern is that these decisions are being taken by the BBC’s political bosses in London in a high-handed, ad-hoc manner – and that is in the interests of no-one in Scotland."