DEFAMATION cases can backfire spectacularly. We need only look at the Tommy Sheridan case. After Sheridan successfully sued the News of the World over allegations about his sex life, he was then convicted of perjury. The bitter back and forth between Sheridan and his former colleagues in the Scottish Socialist Party dragged his reputation through the mud, and halted what may otherwise have been an enduring ascendency for the party.

Today, a new defamation case is on the horizon. Pro-independence blogger Stuart Campbell, who operates the Wings Over Scotland website, is suing Scottish Labour leader, unionist and gay woman Kezia Dugdale for damages of £25,000 after she accused him of making homophobic remarks.

At the centre of the case is a Wings Over Scotland tweet aimed at Oliver Mundell, son of gay Scotland Secretary David Mundell, which read: “Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner.”

While Dugdale believes it was a display of homophobia, Campbell disagrees. If it goes to court, Scottish Labour says Dugdale will be “robustly defended”. Speaking about the impending court proceedings in the Scottish Parliament, Dugdale said: “There is a catalogue of evidence that demonstrates the bile that Stuart Campbell appears to believe is acceptable.”

Campbell had better be ready if he’s going to pursue this, because in court it’ll be open season on his character, and he has a long list of troublesome views – refusing to recognise Chelsea Manning’s gender, and his belief that Liverpool fans were in some way at fault for the deaths of 96 people at Hillsborough. He is already a controversial character within the Yes movement, and Yessers on social media are divided about whether this defamation case is the right course of action.

When Sheridan pursued his case against the News of the World and dragged his former comrades into court, he took his ego with him. Campbell, who can certainly dish out aggression online but has little tolerance for those who hit back, is displaying those same signs of hubris.

Dugdale is not the only politician in Scotland facing the courts right now. Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman – renowned for decades of work exposing private land ownership in Scotland – is being sued for the huge sum of £750,000 over a dispute with a land company relating to content Wightman published on his online blog. Wightman has said that if he loses the case, he could become bankrupt and, as the rules go in Parliament, lose his seat at Holyrood.

So we, in the Scotland that enjoyed an eruption of communication, radicalism and ideas in the last five years or so, are on the cusp of two politicians being hauled into court. All this should worry anyone who cares about democracy. We have an MSP on the verge of losing his seat because of a dispute with a land company and a man holding an LGBT woman to account for speaking out on what she considers homophobia. Yes, Dugdale has a high profile, but so does Campbell, who regularly indulges in what critics see as character assassinations of political opponents on his website.

Given his close links to the Yes campaign, Campbell’s case could embroil the movement in an unedifying spat. Moreover, politicians across the spectrum may fear raising their voices too loudly in case they, too, find themselves standing in front of a judge.

Regardless of verdicts, these cases are long, expensive and draining, and the threat of defamation proceedings has a chilling effect on others. For the sake of truth and the right to express opinions freely, we must accept that it may make us uncomfortable from time to time. Courts are not the only avenue to challenge assertions we disagree with.

If Campbell has any sense, for himself and the cause he professes to believe in, he’ll de-escalate this. But given that he’s set up a crowdfunder to cover his legal costs, it seems unlikely. If this proceeds, it will be a dirty, divisive distraction from the issues the Yes movement should be focusing on.