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Better Together Aamer Anwar

National Collective blog says it "will not be bullied" by threats of legal action after publishing article on oil trader

By Angela Haggerty, Reporter

April 18, 2013 | 4 min read

The Scottish National Collective website has returned online after threats of legal action over a blog article on alleged links between Scottish independence Better Together campaign donor Ian Taylor and a Serbian paramilitary leader.

Collective: Picture courtesy of @jamesdoleman

The dispute led to the site being temporarily taken offline but it reappeared on Wednesday after a press conference in Glasgow with the lawyer representing the group, Aamer Anwar, who has taken the case on pro bono. The site returned with an article titled "We Will Not Be Bullied" and raised questions about freedom of speech.

The National Collective is an "open and non-party political group of artists and creatives" supporting Scottish independence. After the pro-union Better Together campaign revealed details of donors earlier this month, an article was published on the National Collective blog revealing accusations about oil trader Ian Taylor and his company Vitol's links to a Serbian paramilitary leader and Saddam Hussein's government.

In response, the 21-year-old author of the article, student Michael Gray, and National Collective director Ross Colquhoun, received a letter from Taylor's lawyers, Collyer Bristow, threatening legal action for defamation if the article was not immediately removed and an apology published.

However, the duo claimed all of the information published in the article was taken from pre-published news stories and it emerged The Herald and the Wings Over Scotland blog had also been warned of legal action after picking up the story.

"Our intrepid reporter, Michael Gray, through careful use of Google, collated a series of stories already in the public domain, and in doing so challenged Better Together over the source of much of their funding," said the latest article on the National Collective website.

"If we can be self-congratulatory for just a second, it was a fine example of citizen journalism. The reports were serious and we did not publish them brazenly or without due care."

Colquhoun said: "Such corporate bully boy tactics are an attack on freedom of speech. We will not be silenced or bullied by legal intimidation."

The group has republished the original article and said it does not expect Mr Taylor, described as a "respected figure in Scotland" by Labour politician Alistair Darling MP, to continue with any legal action.

A letter from Aamer Anwar & Co. to solicitors Collyer Bristow said: "As of this morning, the National Collective has republished the article on their website and will refuse to take it down.

"The National Collective refuses to apologise for publication on 7 April and have incporporated a 'right of reply' within the original article.

"Our clients believe that this is an outrageous attempt to bully the National Collective into silence and we are instructed to vigorously fight any legal action and test every allegation in the courts."

A petition has been set up by the National Collective calling for the Scottish parliament to investigate the circumstances around Mr Taylor's £500,000 donation to Better Together.

Better Together Aamer Anwar

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