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.”


2013-04-18 17:40

Thank you for your courage and integrity , if you are typical of our youth we have nothing to fear . Keep on keeping on , nearly there now : )
2013-04-18 17:46

Go for it, NC.

Basically, this company is using money it should have paid in taxes to try to convince us that we are better in the Union.

Doesn’t work for me, I’m afraid.
Ayes On The Prize
2013-04-18 17:46

If this story gets the coverage it undoubtedly deserves- the legal action that Vitol took, will prove to be a huge own goal for the No camapaign.

IT IS David & Goliath, a rich corporation throwing it’s weight against artists, creatives and students, who seek only the truth and a fair debate.

IF this story involved the YES campaign we can be absolutely certain, it would be headline news everywhere.

Of course it’s a big IF, the story finds it’s way to the front pages. Well done National Collective,all of Scotland should be proud of you.
2013-04-18 17:48

BBC finally report on donorgate.…/…

PS A HUGE “Well Done” to NC I salute your tenacity and courage.
george davie
2013-04-18 17:51

Pastor Martin Niemöller’s words regarding the Nazis seem to be echoing in my ears.

“First they came for the Socialists …”

You can read the full poem here…/…
2013-04-18 18:03

Read this about Vitol in the P&J.;

North Sea explorer Sterling Resources branded an energy and commodity trading group’s £123million takeover bid as “opportunistic and inadequate” yesterday.

Sterling hit back at Vitol Anker International and accused the Dutch multinational of trying to push the Canada-listed firm’s value down to match its takeover offer.

Vitol – which has a 14% stake in Sterling – moved to acquire the oil and gas firm in February, but Sterling said yesterday the company’s actions since then had been self-serving and disingenuous.

Sterling was forced to defend recent decisions to sell off part of its stake in the Cladhan North Sea field and launch a £147million high-yield bond.
2013-04-18 18:06

Now that this is on both the BBC Scotland & STV on line news sites it surely should be covered on the main TV news tonight.

I don’t normally tune in to BBC Scotland news but I will tonight.
2013-04-18 18:29

Well done to all involved. You should be proud of the stance you have taken. The issue of free speech is far more important than the politics of the referendum and I consider that issue critical for the future of Scotland.
2013-04-18 18:33

As others have already said, well done to those involved at NC.
Will C
2013-04-18 18:37

Bravo National Collective. Free speech is a cornerstone of a democratic society. We cannot let the rich and powerful silence our democratic right to cry Freedom!
H Scott
2013-04-18 18:41

This seems to have been an attempt to silence legitimate criticism and debate.
From The Suburbs
2013-04-18 18:59

BBC has eventually mentioned fact that Alex Salmond has challenged Better Together to return this “dirty money”.

However no mention of Mr Taylor’s bullying tactics or fact that 60% of No campaign money from folk who can’t vote.

The stock unionist response is “oh he helped the Harris Tweed industry” .

Well the Harris Tweed industry would have survived without his investment.…/…
2013-04-18 19:08

They seem to be calling Goliath’s bluff. Well done. This reminds me of the McDonald’s Inc case against a couple who ended up defending themselves in Court. Surely huge risk for Goliath, and embarrassment for Better Together, if this goes to court?
No surprise on Alistair Darlings lack of financial self regulation. While he may be an experienced bureaucrat he has no vision.
2013-04-18 19:11

Thank you NC. Not just for being champions of free speech, but for having a backbone too.
2013-04-18 19:19

This is precisely the situation that the SG should be considering with regard to media accountability and freedom of expression.
Those with the deepest pockets,newspap  ers included,have been able to control those who cannot afford to defend themselves in court.
An independent body could decide whether there was a case to answer and refer it to the courts if necessary before we get into a situation of lawyers at dawn.
Powerful interests in the UK have always been able to manipulate the agenda through their press and the courts.
We must do better.
2013-04-18 19:31

Well done and please stand firm. We are all behind you. You should be proud of yourselves for having principles that seem to be lacking in the Better Together alliance.

I note tonight that Jackie Baillie and Wullie Rennie are defending the donation.
it seems now that all unionist parties are in favour of accepting money no matter where it comes from.
2013-04-18 19:53

You have raised an interesting concept Bringiton.
In the interest of freedom of expression any litigation served by a public listed company on a private individual or individuals who do not have limited liability protection to be reviewed by a Scottish government legal review committee on whether the individual(s) have been rash and must face the consequences of their actions or whether they require support and protection to defend against the litigation.
And hats off to NC
2013-04-18 20:04

Can I take this appropriate opportunity to remind everyone that are holding their second rally on 18th May in Glasgow and will be broadening the debate to include the issue of censorship/ closing down debate, which we feel is closely related to our call for a balanced referendum debate.
We are still in need of donations to fund this second, bigger rally. Please do what you can to make this rally a seminal moment in the fight for a fair democratic referendum.
We also send our support to National Collective, well done !
2013-04-19 10:32

I’m a wee bit worried by the date – I’m sure I saw a banner advertising a ” fun run” in support of a cancer charity on 2 days one of which is the 18th of May .
I could be wrong ,but if I’m right you can guess which one will be covered and indeed should be covered though not to the exclusion of other events.
Maybe someone can corroborate one way or t’other.

Meanwhile , well done to the National Collective!

2013-04-18 20:18

The empire strikes back…but the force(NC)is strong. Right, truth and good will overcome and conquer the evil that is the empire!

Well done
2013-04-18 20:31

Well done NC, huge kudos are due.

There’s hope yet for the future of the media in Scotland.
2013-04-18 20:50

Well done NC, the way you have handled this episode with dignity and integrity in stark contrast to those who would silence you is testament to your hard work and belief. It’s simply inspiring.

I hope NNS don’t mind, but NC do have a fundraiser going on and they’re falling behind a wee bit, raising £9k of an £18k total with only a couple of weeks left to try and reach their total.

Details are on their website on how to donate.
2013-04-19 09:01

I suspect this is much much more significant than it may at first appear.
That photograph has huge resonance with an audience which is critical to the referendum.
I hope Aamer headlines this affair in his column in the Scottish Sun this Sunday
2013-04-19 09:11

Nice one,NC.
Dundonian West
2013-04-19 12:30

Yesterday Scottish Television ran the donation story very early,but the British Broadcasting Corporation operating in Scotland grabbed it meekly late in the day. I wonder why?
Personally,I don’t trust them an inch on Scottish political/financial affairs.
2013-04-19 12:59

I think Labour have given their answer.They are happy enough to accept the donation from Mr Taylor.Their hatred for the SNP is so strong that they will accept what their own members have described as “dirty money” to keep Scotland down.
2013-04-19 18:54

More power to your “pen” I think the majority will be onside with you as the truth emerges.

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