THE First Minister’s chief of staff told the BBC that its inclusion of “alt-right figure” Steve Bannon in a media conference last month was “not surprising”, according to a freedom of information (FOI) request detailing correspondence over Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to pull out of the Edinburgh News Xchange.

Sturgeon, who had been due to speak at the reception of the EBU Edinburgh event, co-hosted by the BBC, pulled out when it emerged that Bannon, a former White House adviser whose far-right political views have been widely condemned, was also speaking.

Now emails dating from October 15, when Sturgeon still planned to attend an opening reception, to the revelation that Bannon was also invited two days later, have been released to the Sunday National under FOI legislation. They also cover the First Minister’s decision to withdraw on October 20 and the frosty discussions that followed.

They include an email sent to the BBC and forwarded by Liz Lloyd – the First Minister’s chief of staff – to special advisors on October 22 in which she claims the BBC “approach” in including Bannon was “not surprising”.

It read: “A discussion on the impact of populism and how it challenges the media does not in our view require providing a platform for such views through a keynote address... That in my view provides an opportunity to amplify the alt-right and fake news messages.

“It is quite unbelievable but regrettably not surprising to us that the BBC consider this an appropriate approach to take.”

At the time Sturgeon had tweeted: “I believe passionately in free speech but as @ScotGovFM I have to make balanced judgments – and I will not be part of any process that risks legitimising or normalising far-right, racist views. I regret that the BBC has put me and others in this position.”

Other emails reveal that Bannon’s inclusion in the conference first came to light in a conference call between the BBC and special advisors, which Lloyd – who had originally accepted the invitation – was unable to attend.

The day after the call she sent an irate email expressing “serious concerns” in which she claimed her colleagues were told Bannon’s attendance was already in the public domain. “I’m afraid I’m struggling to identify any public reference to it at all” she remarked.

“I appreciate that inviting someone like that to the conference provides a certain shock value and no doubt a buzz around the conference that you would wish to generate,” she added.

The BBC responded the following day claiming: “A key factor in our decision making is that this conference ... is a forum for journalists and media executives”, rather than the public.

The BBC rep also writes: “While some of the speakers do attract more ‘buzz’ than others ... ‘shock factor’ is not something that factors into our agenda setting.”

Following the decision to withdraw, a BBC executive – whose name is redacted – pled with Lloyd to change her mind. “Speaking invitations like Bannon’s come from the EBU, not the BBC, so it’s not gone via Tony Hall [BBCC Director General],” the exec wrote while noting that this was a personal email “not to the group” of other BBC execs and special advisors.

“The Bannon invitation is from [EBU]... the FM invitation is from us. I’d very much like to think you’d reconsider,” he wrote adding that it was a great opportunity to promote “brand Scotland” to media executives who “might have made it as far as London before”.

“A robust, lively and punchy (not literally) conference is a good thing,” he insisted.

However Lloyd was unconvinced. “As you know when we originally discussed this I agreed it was an excellent opportunity.

“And it is with regret that we are now having to forego it. I have to say I feel quite personally let down by the position we’ve been put in.”

In the same email she makes further reference to the “intolerable position”, the “naivety of the Bannon invitation” and the “deeply worrying trend” of “normalising and accepting such views”.

At the time of Sturgeon’s decision, a spokesperson for EBU claimed Bannon was “a key influencer in the rise of populism – one of the dominant political trends of our times”.

“He has been invited to speak at News Xchange this year because his views are relevant to today’s society at large and therefore to the media industry.

“We also consider it our journalistic responsibility to share and scrutinise a range of relevant viewpoints within the framework of a balanced debate.”