TRIBUTES have poured in to Ian Bell, the award-winning journalist and columnist for The Herald and Sunday Herald, who died on Thursday aged 59.

The BBC's Andrew Marr described Bell as "Scotland's finest journalist", while former First Minister Alex Salmond described news of his death as "gut-wrenching".

Condolences were also paid by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, The Proclaimers, who described Bell as "the finest journalist in the UK", author Chris Brookmyre and a host of others from the worlds of journalism, culture and politics.

Bell died on Thursday, shortly after a sudden illness at his home in Eyemouth, in the Borders.

He is survived by his wife Mandy and his son Sean.

On his Twitter account, Andrew Marr, a colleague of Bell when the pair worked at The Scotsman in the mid-1980s, said: "Scotland has lost her finest journalist: I, a kind friend and a wise mentor I never listened to enough… devastated."

Also on his Twitter account, Mr Salmond said: "Gut-wrenching news today about the death of Ian Bell. Ian wrote beautifully and with a power and a vision that few, if any, could match. At this moment, in Scotland's story, voices such as Ian's have never been more necessary and therefore now never more missed."

On their website, The Proclaimers posted: "Craig and Charlie are very sad to hear of the passing of Ian Bell. Ian was the finest journalist in the UK. His breadth of knowledge was astounding and his understanding of Scotland’s cultural and political changes over the last 30 years was unsurpassed.

"His analysis was razor sharp and his eloquence was beautiful and uplifting. It is insufficient to say that he will be missed. Scotland is genuinely diminished by his death."

Author Chris Brookmyre added: "In a medium dominated by attention-seeking blowhards, Ian Bell's columns were an oasis of informed, analytical and compassionate thinking."

Twice named Journalist of the Year, Bell began his career as a sub-editor before his move into political journalism. He later wrote as a columnist and leader writer.

In 1997, he won the Orwell Prize for political journalism and he was named Columnist of the Year on several occasions.

During his career he worked at The Scotsman, Daily Record, Business AM, The Observer and Times Literary Supplement prior to his time at The Herald.

Bell, who was born in Edinburgh, was also an award-winning author, having penned two volumes of a biography of Bob Dylan and one of Robert Louis Stevenson, Dreams of Exile, which was named Saltire Society's Best First Book in 1994.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "Whatever your views on the issue of the day, few would deny that Ian was one of the most engaging commentators in Scottish politics.

"He was never afraid to speak his mind – nor to go against the grain.

"Ian’s life has been cut short, but his mark on Scotland’s cultural life will remain for many years to come.

"Of course, for all he was treasured by people across the country, he was first and foremost a loving husband, father and son."

Journalist, broadcaster and television executive Stuart Cosgrove said: "Shocked & saddened to hear of the death of Ian Bell, a giant in Scottish journalism - socialist, republican & Hibee."

Grahame Smith, STUC General Secretary, said: "Ian's career spanned a time of great industrial and social change in Scotland which he charted with passion, consummate skill and a profound understanding of the impact on working people and their communities. He will be very sadly missed."

Bell's last work for The Herald, reviewing a history of Ukraine where he drew parallels with Scotland, appears in today's Herald Magazine. The review had gone to press before his death.