David vs Goliath battle as National Collective calls legal threat “an attack on free speech”

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  A Scottish Art website which was last week was taken offline following legal threats from the largest donor of the official anti-independence campaign Better Together, has vowed not to back down in the face of what it called “bully boy tactics”.

National Collective has finally spoken out following legal threats issued against it by solicitors acting on behalf of Ian Taylor.

By G.A.Ponsonby

A Scottish Art website which was last week was taken offline following legal threats from the largest donor of the official anti-independence campaign Better Together, has vowed not to back down in the face of what it called “bully boy tactics”.

National Collective has finally spoken out following legal threats issued against it by solicitors acting on behalf of Mr Ian Taylor who recently hit the headlines after he was revealed to have donated half a million pounds to the Better Together campaign.

The businessman, who in the past has donated significant sums of money to the Conservative party, is the No campaign’s biggest donor.

Following publication of his name by Better Together, an article appeared on National Collective that drew attention to several past business dealings involving the company headed by Mr Taylor.

It emerged that his company Vitol had paid $1 million to a former Serbian war criminal Arkan and had also pled guilty to charges of grand larceny, leading to a $17.5 million fine.

The company is also facing claims it owes millions of pounds in unpaid taxes to the UK Exchequer after using a controversial Employee Benefit Trust scheme (EBT) which allowed employees to avoid paying tax.

However following publication of the article, the Better Together backer demanded that National Collective remove it and apologise.  Mr Taylor claimed the article contained “serious errors and falsehoods”.  A lawyer’s letter issued on behalf of Mr Taylor and his company Vitol, threatened to commence legal proceedings and to “seek substantial damages” if National Collective refused..

Today in a press conference in Glasgow, accompanied by their solicitor Aamer Anwar, National Collective hit back.

Freedom of speech

Describing the legal threat as “corporate bully boy tactics”, National Collective director Ross Colquhoun said it was “an attack on freedom of speech.”

The press conference, attended by STV, the Herald, Newsnight Scotland and online media representatives from Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland, heard that the National Collective website, which had been closed down following receipt of the lawyer’s letter, had been re-activated and the original article re-published.

In a reference to Mr Taylor’s company Vitol, Mr Colquhoun said: “This is the world’s largest oil company, but it will fail if it tries to intimidate us.

“This is David versus Goliath.  And Goliath will not win.”

Mr Colquhoun added: “People on both sides of the debate have called for Better Together to return this donation.  We are backing this call.”

Mr Colquhoun was asked if he believed there was a theme developing that threatened open debate.

Responding he said: “We have already had a film that we were promoting taken down following a copyright claim by Better Together so I would suggest that there is a theme developing.”

The film was a reference to a satirical video which poked fun at some No Campaign scare stories.

The National Collective front man also revealed that an online petition had been set up calling for Better Together to return the £500,000 donated by Mr Taylor.

Michael Gray, the author of the article at the centre of the legal challenge, said the situation was about more than politics.

The University of Glasgow student said: “This is about our freedom to write without intimidation from the powerful and the rich.

“Like the members of the media here today, I just want write and investigate what is happening in the world around me.”

Mr Gray said he stood by his investigative journalism article and added:

“I may only be a 21 year old student, but I will not back down.  I have never been a member of a political party.  This is about the freedom of every Scot, from whatever political background, to ask the tough questions of politicians and their funders at a crucial time.”

“We don’t have the money or the resources that Vitol has, but we have principles, and that is priceless.”

The acceptance of the £500,000 donation has caused division within the Labour party with former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish calling for the Labour party to clarify its position.

Speaking to the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, Mr McLeish said:

“Labour has to be clear about whether this is the type of finance we want in the campaign…We need absolute transparency.  We have to be very careful about what kind of money should be used.  The unionist campaign has got to respond to legitimate questions and the criticism that’s been put forward.”

Mr McLeish’s comments follow criticism by Labour MP John Mann, who recently attacked Mr Taylor’s donations to the Conservative party calling it “dirty money”.

The Labour MP also accused Mr Taylor’s company Vitol of indulging in “immoral” trade and of “backing corrupt regimes” following revelations that Vitol had paid ‘kickbacks’ to officials in the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

However Mr Mann’s party colleague, Labour MP Alistair Darling who heads the Better Together campaign, said he was “pleased” that the Vitol Chief Executive was backing the No campaign.

Describing Mr Taylor as a “respected” figure Mr Darling told the Times newspaper: “For our part, we are pleased to have his support and we think that people who care about Scotland should be able to speak out against the nationalists without facing these kind of personal attacks.”

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