BBC Question Time host Fiona Bruce has been cleared of “anti-SNP” bias following an investigation by the corporation’s Executive Complaint Unit (ECU).

In their findings, the broadcaster’s internal watchdog said the presenter’s claim that the SNP had come “off the rails” was “rooted in evidence.”

They said the party themselves had already “publicly acknowledged the severity of the difficulties.”

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The broadcaster was criticised for comments made when the show was filmed in Fort William in May.

The previous month had seen the party’s chief executive Peter Murrell and the then treasurer Colin Beattie arrested in connection with Operation Branchform, the Police Scotland probe into the SNP’s finances and funding.

Both men were questioned by detectives and released without charge, pending further investigation.

That development in the probe followed a bitter and divisive leadership contest.

In her opening monologue, Ms Bruce said: “Tonight Question Time is in Scotland for the first time since the SNP came off the rails in such spectacular fashion.

“Following Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation and the arrest of high-profile SNP officials in the course of a police investigation into party finances, the audience here in Fort William want to know what it all means for Scotland and for the UK.”

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Prominent independence supporters rushed to Twitter to complain about the language used.

The journalist Gerry Hassan said it was “impossible to imagine” that Bruce or any other BBC journalist would “describe the UK Tories in such a manner”.

In a tweet that was shared more than 1,600 times, he added: “Am not saying the SNP do not have difficult questions to answer or are not in a difficult place but this is unacceptable framing & editorialising by the BBC.

“Fiona Bruce has never introduced #bbcqt in such a partisan way about Tory or Labour problems.”

There were also complaints that the party's representative on the programme, Net Zero Secretary Màiri McAllan, had been interrupted far more than fellow panellists,  Alba leader Alex Salmond, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie, Tory peer Malcolm Offord and journalist Nina Myskow.

SNP president Michael Russell said the programme showed "blatant bias against SNP guests on the panel."

“From the opening introduction, Fiona Bruce’s hostility was evident. The programme is now a clear example of the failure of the BBC to live up to its charter and guidelines and should be either recommissioned with a company and presenter that is prepared to observe the rules and hide their prejudices or scrapped”, he said.

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According to the latest BBC complaints log, a viewer claimed Ms Bruce “lacked impartiality in her handling of the panellists, in particular in her assertion that the SNP had ‘come off the rails’ since the programme last visited Scotland.”

In their investigation, the ECU “considered whether the programme met BBC standards on due accuracy and impartiality.”

The report states that the BBC Editorial Guidelines “allow presenters, reporters and correspondents to provide ‘professional judgements rooted in evidence’.”

“In the ECU’s view Fiona Bruce’s comment about the SNP fell into that category and noted the SNP itself had publicly acknowledged the severity of the difficulties it faced, in terms arguably stronger than those used on the programme.

“Overall, the ECU considered all sides in the debate that evening were fairly challenged and if it appeared the SNP were under particular scrutiny this was as a result of their position as the Scottish Government and of recent events, rather than an indication of bias by the presenter or the BBC.”