I have been alarmed to discover that today, a website to which I am an occasional contributor - National Collective - has been temporarily taken down after threatened legal action.
National Collective is run by a number of artists and creative types who favour an independent Scotland. It is generally far more considered and temperate than many of the other expressions of pro-independence support.
What it seems to have done to become the recipient of threats of litigation is to take information freely available in the public domain - most obviously in The Guardian and The Herald but also other daily newspapers - and put together a financial history of Mr Ian Taylor, the CEO of oil giant Vitol and a man who only last weekend went public with the announcement that he was donating £500,000 to Better Together.
Taylor has retaliated, oddly enough not by threatening the news media but in choosing National Collective as his target. It's difficult to comprehend what he feels can be gained by this, given that he doesn't seem to want to challenge their sources. That, however, is not my concern. Neither am I particularly worried about the damage he may do to Better Together and to his own reputation.
As James McKenzie points out on Better Nation, this bullying of a group of artists essentially constitutes an "attempted censorship" made worse by the fact that "there are rumours of equivalent legal action against both Wings over Scotland and Berthan Pete". Now, silencing by intimidation is not the kind of tactic I think Better Together should be even perceived as supporting, not least because many Liberal Democrats are counted among its activists. It is also a large campaign group committed to a responsible democratic discussion on Scotland's constitutional future and therefore a lack of respect for democratic values shouldn't sit comfortably with its many supporters.
Free speech is paramount to the debate currently ensuing on Scotland's democratic future. Those in both camps must realise and respect this. Mr Taylor certainly doesn't, but what about Better Together?
It's too simplistic to judge organisations on the basis of their donors. In recent years the SNP has taken sizable donations from Brian Souter and the Liberal Democrats from Michael Brown. It would be facile to present the SNP as homophobic or the Liberal Democrats as friends of fraudsters.
However, what has been Better Together's response so far? An article on their website, entitled "Smear and Fear" takes an ultra-defensive view - insisting that they "are happy to say is that Ian Taylor is a respected figure internationally" and blaming "allegations made...in a nationalist blog a few days ago...[for] inaccurate reports".
In coming down so firmly and completely on the side of their donor, Better Together is taking a huge gamble. I'm happy to follow the lead of the evidence on this one, but am concerned about how closed minded Better Together seems to be. There appears to be evidence from more than a mere Nationalist blog (which National Collective is not - there is a distinction between pro-independence and nationalism) that Ian Taylor's financial dealings are questionable to say the least. Now these may well be allegations, but isn't it best to make enquiries first? There are certainly some serious questions to be answered.
I'm actually quite concerned at the number of Liberal Democrats who appear to be happy to endorse the Better Together position unquestioningly. I find it strange that when it comes to our own party, we'd go to some lengths to make our feelings known about unsavoury benefactors (i.e. we most definitely don't want them!). When it comes to Better Together, it seems anything goes. If Mr Taylor was to offer money to the Lib Dems I'd imagine there would be more of an outcry from within; I am genuinely surprised that more of my liberal friends in Better Together are not only refusing to speak out against the unsuitability of this donor, but are actively taking a defensive line. Certainly I've been astonished that there haven't been more of us defending National Collective's right to freedom of speech.
Better Together has not explicitly stated support for the line taken by Mr Taylor in silencing National Collective. What they do say, without apparent irony, is this: "this is too important an issue to have a campaign where people are afraid to have their say. We can’t go on like this. Scots deserve the debate to be better than this." Accepted. So when will they give it to us?
Indeed, the debate surrounding the democratic future of our country is too important to be dominated by Ian Taylor, or to be characterised by either the kind of juvenile smearing contained within their own article or attempts to silence opponents. That Taylor has seen fit to target National Collective rather than the more powerful national media, combined with the fact that to date Better Together has been uncritically supportive, suggests that the "No" campaign is quite happy to associate themselves with censorship and intimidation.
Of course, this may not in fact be the case. Ian Taylor and Better Together are of course separate entities. Better Together may make a statement to the effect that it distances itself from Taylor's actions - something which is certainly likely if more of the campaign's supporters make a stand opposing Taylor's attempts at intimidation. I hope so. If they fail to do so, the obvious conclusion to be drawn will be that Better Together cares less for free speech than it does Taylor's money (irrespective of from whence it came) - with its democratic credentials being seriously and irreversibly compromised as a result.
Does Better Together care about free speech? I hope so. No doubt we'll soon find out.