Belief in Scottish independence protected under equality laws, Employment Tribunal rules

A belief in Scottish independence is “protected” under equality laws, an employment tribunal has ruled in a case involving an SNP councillor.

Chris McEleny, SNP group leader on Inverclyde Council, brought a case against the Ministry of Defence (MoD), claiming it unfairly targeted him over his stance on independence, The Herald reports.

Judge Frances Eccles said of Mr McEleny’s view, after a preliminary hearing, that it “has a sufficiently similar cogency to a religious belief… to qualify as a philosophical belief”.

As such it could be relied upon as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Mr McEleny was working as an electrician at the MoD munitions site in Beith, North Ayrshire when he announced he would be standing for the SNP depute leadership role in 2016.

At the time of the leadership hustings, his security clearance was revoked and he was suspended. He said he was then interviewed by national security officials on his pro-independence views, prompting him to leave his job.

The judgment stated: “The claimant was clear in his evidence that he does not believe in Scottish independence because it will necessarily lead to improved economic and social conditions for people living in Scotland. It is a fundamental belief in the right of Scotland to national sovereignty.”

His lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said: “This legal precedent now enables my client to pursue a claim for direct discrimination alleging that he was discriminated against because of this belief.”

A lawyer for the MoD said political affiliation and philosophical belief are significantly different.

“It does not have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief,” they argued.