Case study: Is belief in Scottish independence protected by law?

AN employment tribunal has ruled that having belief in Scottish independence is now a protected philosophical belief under equality law in a landmark discrimination case.

BACKGROUND

Christopher McEleny, an SNP councillor and group leader on Inverclyde Council, claims he was unfairly treated by his former employer the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after he announced his candidacy for the SNP deputy leadership role in 2016.

Mr McEleny was employed as an electrician at an MoD munitions site in Beith, North Ayrshire. He claims that in the build up to the leadership announcement, his security clearance was revoked and he was suspended.

He further alleged that security officials questioned him at his home regarding his mental health and stance on issues such as Trident, Irish politics and Rangers Football Club. Mr McEleny was then reinstated but chose to resign claiming that he had been unfairly singled out. He argued that this activity was directly related to his membership of the SNP and pro-independence views.

OUTCOME

The Equality Act 2010 states that it is unlawful to discriminate in the workplace because of religion, religious belief, philosophical belief or lack of religion or belief.

Following the preliminary hearing, Judge Frances Eccles agreed that Mr McEleny’s support for independence had “a sufficiently similar cogency to a religious belief” and under the Equality Act 2010 could therefore be relied upon as a protected characteristic for claiming discrimination.

Ms Eccles found that sovereignty and "self-determination" were "weighty and substantial aspects of human life" and that "how a country should be governed is sufficiently serious to amount to a philosophical belief".

This case attracted a great deal of media interest and will now go forward to a full hearing. It is being seen as a potential landmark case and we await any further developments with interest.