THE BBC’s outgoing political editor has defended his reporting of the referendum campaign, while admitting that the controversial phrasing of a news item that caused a row with Alex Salmond “wasn’t good”.

Nick Robinson, who is leaving his role to present Radio 4’s Today Programme, said he “agonised” over how to report an ill-tempered exchange with the former first minister a week before the vote last September.

His report for BBC News, which claimed Mr Salmond “didn’t answer” a question, went viral on social media and led to allegations of bias by some in the pro-independence campaign, demonstrations outside the corporation’s Glasgow headquarters and calls for the broadcaster to resign.

Speaking in an interview in today’s Herald Magazine, Mr Robinson, who is recovering from lung cancer, said he regretted his phrasing but claims Mr Salmond “needed a distraction” on a day when the headlines were against the politician.

“There’s no doubt at all that the phrasing of that report wasn’t clever,” he said.

“The phrase ‘he didn’t answer’ was clearly open to the interpretation that I meant he didn’t say anything, which is absurd, and it never occurred to me that people would see it that way. But I wrote the phrase and it wasn’t good.

“What I was trying to point out to the viewer was that [Mr MSalmond] chose largely not to address the points I put to him, and to have instead an argument about something else.

“God, I wish I could write the phrase again.”

Click here for our full interview with Nick Robinson in the Herald Magazine.

In his recent book, Election Notebook, which he will discuss at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this week, the journalist accuses Mr Salmond of “an utterly calculated attempt to put pressure on the week before the referendum”.

Mr Robinson said the news conference in question, on the day RBS announced they would move their headquarters to London if Scotland voted for independence, was one where the SNP wanted to “project to the world that [Scotland] was a week away from independence”. He said instead it became “a moment at which the campaign seemed to be turning against them”, so Mr Salmond “needed a distraction”.

He added: “It’s the job of journalists to say ‘here’s the uncertainty they don’t want to tell you about. Here is the question they’d rather you didn’t ask.’ I saw it as my job in the referendum to say 'look viewer, reader, this guy doesn’t want to answer a question here. Why is that?' And to do it equally with both sides.

“But I can see that if you had already made your mind up, you’d think, ‘why is this guy being so rude, or pushy or aggressive with my guy?’”

At the time, Mr Salmond accused the corporation of “unconscious bias”, saying: “I think the metropolitan BBC has found this thing extraordinarily difficult, to separate their own view of the world from their view reporting Scotland."

Mr Robinson described accusations that he reheated old allegations and simply does not get Scottish politics as “absolute nonsense”.

In a wide-ranging interview, the journalist also spoke about his successful treatment for lung cancer, telling how he lost his voice following surgery in March to remove a bronchial carcinoid tumour.

He said the very real prospect of not regaining his voice was worse than being told he had cancer. His voice has now returned, but is still recovering.

Mr Robinson described his successor as political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, who is from Glasgow, as “incredibly impressive”.

“When she says MPs are saying something or other, Laura will have spoken to 20,” he said. “She’ll bring a real commitment to digging out stories and a real passion for and belief in politics. The great privilege of the job is that you get the chance to help shape the national conversation on politics.”

He added: “The fact that she is from Glasgow and a Scot will not protect her from the sort of rows I got involved in.”