Judge upholds ruling that belief in independence is protected under equality law like religion

Written by Jenni Davidson on 11 March 2019 in News

SNP councillor Chris McEleny took the MOD to court claiming it had discriminated against him for being in favour of independence

Councillor Chris McEleny - Image credit: Inverclyde Council

A judge has upheld a ruling that belief in Scottish independence should be protected under equality law in a similar way to religion.

SNP councillor Chris McEleny won the right to take the Ministry of Defence to a full employment tribunal at a preliminary hearing in July 2018, after a judge ruled that a belief in Scottish independence was a “philosophical belief” that should be protected from discrimination.

The SNP group leader on Inverclyde Council claims he was unfairly targeted by the MOD because of his views on independence.

The MOD appealed the decision and a hearing was held in January 2019, but the appeal has now been refused, meaning the case will proceed to a full hearing later this year.

McEleny was employed as an electrician at MOD munitions site in Beith, North Ayrshire, when he announced he was standing to be depute leader of the SNP.

During the leadership contest, McEleny was told his security clearance had been revoked and that he was suspended.

He was then interviewed by national security officials on issues including his pro-independence views, Rangers football club and his knowledge of Irish politics.

McEleny left his post, claiming he had been unfairly targeted.

Following the preliminary hearing in July, Judge Frances Eccles said McEleny's support for independence had "a sufficiently similar cogency to a religious belief... to qualify as a philosophical belief".

Under the Equality Act 2010, it could therefore be relied upon as a ‘protected characteristic’ for claiming discrimination.

A lawyer acting for the MoD had argued that a political belief did not amount to a philosophical belief.

The MoD argued that support for Scottish independence did not extend far enough beyond Scotland to warrant the status of a philosophical belief and would have "no substantial impact on the lives of citizens in, for example, Tanzania, Peru or India".

But Eccles said 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".

She upheld this in the appeal.

Commenting on the failure of the appeal, McEleny said: “I very much welcome the decision and thank everyone for the support shown to date.

“Naturally, as I am sure people will understand, I will refrain from further comment until after the full conclusion of proceedings.”

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