Scottish independence as a protected philosophical belief? McEleny round three

An Employment Tribunal judge has upheld a ruling that an SNP councillor’s beliefs about Scottish independence are similar to a religious or philosophical belief.

In 2016 Chris McEleny, the SNP group leader on Inverclyde Council, was working as an electrician at the Ministry of Defence plant in Beith, North Ayrshire, when he announced his bid to become his party’s, Deputy Leader. After the leadership hustings began, the MoD revoked his security clearance and suspended him from his job. The MoD’s National Security Vetting then questioned him on his suitability for clearance. He alleged that a number of political issues were raised by National Security Vetting, including his anti-Trident position, his social media activity in relation to Irish politics and a speech that he gave at his party’s conference in 2012. His security clearance was subsequently reinstated, but he resigned and took the MoD to an employment tribunal.

In Mr C McEleny v Ministry of Defence [2018] UKET S/4105347/2017, he claimed direct discrimination contrary to s.13 of the Equality Act 2010, having been treated less favourably by the MoD because of his philosophical belief in Scottish independence and the social democratic values of the SNP, and cited the SNP constitution in support of his claim. Employment Judge Eccles concluded that belief in independence for Scotland satisfied the tests in Grainger Plc & Ors v Nicholson [2009] UKEAT 0219/09/0311 and was not merely an opinion based on the present state of information available:

“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” [32].

Mr McEleny’s belief in Scottish independence amounted, therefore, to a philosophical belief for the purposes of s.10(3) of the Equality Act 2010 and could be relied upon as a protected characteristic in order to claim direct discrimination under s.13.

The MoD appealed that decision, arguing that Mr McEleny’s views could not possibly be shared by the near 1.5 million people who voted for independence in the 2014 referendum, but Judge Eccles has rejected that argument. According to a report in Scottish Legal News, she said that it would not be “in the interests of justice” to reconsider her earlier judgment, noting that the MoD had not provided any new evidence. Dismissing the MoD’s appeal, Judge Eccles said: “I am not persuaded that I misunderstood the claimant’s evidence about his belief or analysed a belief other than the one in relation to which he sought protection.” Further, “I was satisfied that his belief in Scottish independence could be ‘severed and considered separately’ from his belief in the social democratic values of the SNP.” Nor was she persuaded “that it was necessary for me to find that each of the 1.5 million people who voted in favour of independence would, if asked, have articulated exactly the same belief as the claimant for his belief to be philosophical in nature.”

There will now be a full hearing on the alleged discrimination.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Scottish independence as a protected philosophical belief? McEleny round three" in Law & Religion UK, 11 March 2019, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2019/03/11/scottish-independence-as-a-protected-philosophical-belief-mceleny-round-three/

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