23. February 2017 · Comments Off on Defamation · Categories: Announcements, Defamation, Legal affairs

In October 2016 I received a letter from a law firm alleging defamation in relation to two blogs written by me and published on this website.

I am publishing this blog in order to:-

  1. provide an update to a wide range of individuals and organisations who have been in touch since this case became public in early December 2016.
  2. draw to the attention of a wider public the issues around the current state of defamation law in Scotland

The Timeline

On 31 October 2016 I received a letter from Burness Paull LLP (BP) alleging that I had published two blogs that were “grossly defamatory” of its client. It alleged that the blogs were “littered with false and defamatory comments” and “for the sake of brevity”, the letter listed six examples.

That client is Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC (hereafter abbreviated to WHE).

WHE sought “a full and unequivocal retraction and apology” and was advised by BP that it is entitled to “substantial compensation from you for the damage caused directly by the blogs”. I was informed that WHE “estimates its losses to be in the region of £750,000” and that WHE would also require payment by myself of all of its legal costs.

The letter informed me that that, if I did not provide a “satisfactory reply” by 14 November 2016 our instructions are to issue a summons”

On 10 November 2016, I responded to this letter through my solicitor denying the claims of alleged defamation.

On 30 November 2016, BP replied and disputed my denials and intimated that its instructions were “now to proceed with a summons”.

My solicitor responded to this correspondence with further detail  on 14 December 2016.

On 15 December 2016, BP wrote to my solicitors to intimate that they had instructed a QC and were sending papers to him that day.

As of today, 24 February 2017, no Summons has been received by my solicitor.

Scottish Green Party Conjoined

Burns Paull LLP has also issued a legal letter on behalf of WHE to the Scottish Green Party intimating that it will also be conjoined in an action for allegedly communicating the defamation via a hyperlink on its website.

Defamation Law

The significance of today’s date is that, were these allegations to be made against me under English law, I would now be free since, a pursuer has one year in which to raise an action. The law in England and Wales was modernised by the Defamation Act 2013.

The law on defamation in Scotland is under review by the Scottish Law Commission and Scottish PEN are campaigning for reform. See also the UK wide Libel Reform Campaign.

Consequences for an MSP

In the event that an MSP becomes personally insolvent (through, for example, losing a £750,000 defamation case) and sequestration is awarded to the debtor, the MSP is disqualified from being a member of the Scottish Parliament under Sections 15 and 17 of the Scotland Act 1998 read with Section 427 of the Insolvency Act 1986. During a period of 6 months following sequestration, an MSP may not participate in proceedings of the Parliament. This disqualification ends in the event that that award of sequestration is recalled or reduced. If the award remains after 6 months (ie the MSP still owes the sum awarded but cannot pay and remains insolvent) then the MSP loses their seat and a vacancy arises.

My total assets are nowhere near £750,000.

I am saying nothing further on the matter for the moment and for legal reasons this blog is closed to comments.

Please also note that anyone repeating the alleged defamation through social media is liable to being pursued for the same alleged defamation.


27. January 2017 · Comments Off on Declaration of Interests, Income and Tax 2015 · Categories: Announcements, Freedom of Information, Governance

Since 2010, I have been (like a couple of my self-employed writer/activist colleagues George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh) making an annual declaration of interests, income and tax. Previous declarations can be found at the foot of the About page.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from earlier in 2014 is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

In 2016 I was elected as an MSP. I will continue to publish information in this format on an annual basis but will also include a transparency page on my MSP website to draw attention to wider transparency issues in relation to my public role.

I earn my living from writing, research, consultancy, public speaking, investigation, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. My accounting year is the calendar year and so for my tax return of April 2016, it is 2015. For 2015, my income was as follows.

GROSS INCOME (1)     £ 42,323
LESS COSTS (2)           £ 11,130
TAXABLE INCOME (3)  £ 31,193

My total taxable income (including bank interest & dividends) for the Year Ending 5 April 2016 was £ 33,582 on which I am due to pay tax of £4121 and Class 4 NI contributions of £2082 = total of £6203 (see tax HMRC calculation here).

During 2015 all of my income was generated from within the UK. My main clients were NGOs, private companies, law firms, print & broadcast media and royalty payments on my books.

I own no land or property.
I have 483 shares in Standard Life (legally I have 2453 but 1970 are held on behalf of a minor)
I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485).
I am a member of the Scottish Green Party and a number of charitable bodies.
I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income

Also see my Parliamentary Register of Interests

(1) Gross Income is total of all income received. This includes re-imbursment for travel costs etc.
(2) Costs are all expenses such as computers, travel, stationery, telephone, research fees (for example, search fees paid to Registers of Scotland) and other expenses of employment.
(3) Taxable income is Gross Income less expenses and is the profit on which tax is calculated.

Newspapers including the Daily Telegraph reports excitedly that the Tulchan Estate in Morayshire is on the market for offers £25 million. A closer look at the facts, however, indicates that this is not so. The Press Release published by Savills makes clear that it is the company that owns Tulchan Estate – Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd. – that is being sold.

So who owns Tulchan Sporting Estates Ltd. (TESL)?

Savills claims that the principal shareholders are “Gillian and Leon Litchfield”. But a closer look at the facts indicates that this too is not so. They are both Directors of the Company and did, prior to 17 November 2014, own shares in the company but they no longer do so.

The current sole shareholder is Archimedes Private Office (Suisse) Sàrl (as Security Agent), a company incorporated in Switzerland at Route Des Acacias 24, 1227 Les Acacias, Geneva. This company has, in addition, a number of securities over the Tulchan Estate.

The sale of the company by its sole shareholder Archimedes Private Office (Suisse) Sàrl has three notable consequences.

First, since the sale is of a shares in TESL owned by a Swiss company, there will probably be no liability to Capital Gains Tax. The latest accounts of TESL show the assets of the company to be worth £11,462,686. The shareholding is being sold for over £25 million.

Second, since the sale is of the share in the company and not of the property, there will be no liability Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (on a sale of £25 million, that would equate to £1,115,250 lost to Revenue Scotland).

Third, there are four tenant farmers who have a registered interest to buy their farms under the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003. This right to buy is triggered when the owner of the farms decides to sell the farms. But the farms are not being sold and will continue to be owned by TESL. This means of avoiding the right to buy provisions was highlighted by tenant farmers back in 2007 and, more recently, the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group recommended that further consideration should be given to enabling tenant farmers to exercise their right to buy when shareholdings rather than the land is traded (see Section 8.3 and Recommendation 19 here). As far as I am aware, no such consideration has been given to this recommendation.

UPDATE 24 August 0015

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has called for a halt to the sale. See Media Release

PSReaders should note that the author of this blog was elected to the Scottish Parliament in May 2016 and, as evidenced by the fact that this is the first blog since April 2016, anticipates a lower level of blogging activity in future.

UPDATE 29 March 2018

Confirmation in 6 March 2018 Confirmation Statement that Tulchan Sporting Estates is now wholly owned by SF Scottish Properties Ltd., registered in St Peter Port, Guernsey. Further background in Parkwatch blog from 3 April 2017.