ALEX Salmond has mounted an outspoken defence of Scots Makar Liz Lochhead, who has faced calls to resign after announcing publicly she had joined the SNP.

The former First Minister has written to The Herald dismissing criticism of the poet by the paper's columnist Colette Douglas Home as "strangely illiberal" and "almost madcap".

He accuses Ms Douglas Home of seeking to restrict Ms Lochhead's civil rights.

Ms Lochhead announced she had joined the SNP at the weekend, when she addressed the party's women's conference in Ayr.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the news in an SNP press release which also quoted the poet.

However the composer James MacMillan and author Catherine Moorhead said she should consider stepping down as national poet, suggesting she no longer spoke for the whole country.

In her column on Tuesday, Ms Douglas Home said Ms Lochhead was wrong to publicise her membership of the SNP.

She wrote: "So soon after a referendum when bridges need to be built, should she at least not become openly aligned with one tribe.

"It puts her offside with at least half the population.

"How is that consistent with the spirit of the role."

She suggested the role of Makar was becoming politicised and the poet must be seen as speaking "for the 100 per cent, not the 45".

Ms Lochhead's predecessor as Makar, Edwin Morgan, was also a Nationalist who left £1million to the SNP in his will.

However, Ms Douglas Home contrasted Ms Lochhead's public backing for the SNP with Mr Morgan's less overt support during his lifetime.

In his letter, Mr Salmond defends Ms Lochhead's decision to exercise her "civic right" to join the party and publicise her membership.

He says Ms Douglas Home's comments were "wrongheaded and out of touch".

He insists her appointment as Makar - which was made by a panel comprised of Mr Salmond himself and former first ministers Jack McConnell and Henry McLeish - was not "politically restricted".

He claims Ms Douglas Home's views are "strangely illiberal and out of touch with the new Scotland" and adds: "Ms Douglas Home assumes that by taking out SNP membership Liz Lochhead distances herself from the 55 per cent of the country who voted No. She does not."

He also insists criticism of Ms Lochhead's decision has been limited to a "very, very tiny percentage" who, like Colette Douglas Home and in extraordinary small mindedness - would seek to deny others the very civil rights that she would demand for herself".

It is not the first time Mr Salmond has intervened personally in public debates since announcing his resignation after the independence referendum.

In September he wrote to The Herald criticising a piece by the paper's columnist David Torrance.

The following month he called a BBC Scotland radio phone-in from his home in Aberdeenshire to defend moves to prevent councils pursuing people for poll tax arrears.