An SNP councillor claiming unfair dismissal from his former employment at the Ministry of Defence has won a ruling that his support for independence qualifies as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 for the purposes of a discrimination claim.
Employment Judge Frances Eccles gave the preliminary ruling in the case brought by Chris McEleny, SNP group leader on Inverclyde Council, who claims constructive dismissal from his job as an electrician at the MoD munitions site in Beith, Ayrshire.
Mr McEleny alleges that after announcing his candidacy for deputy leader of his party in 2016, he was told his security clearance had been revoked and that he was suspended. After being interviewed by security officials on matters including his support for independence, he resigned claiming he had been unfairly singled out.
The MoD argued that a political belief did not have the status or cogency of a religious or philosophical belief, and support for Scottish independence would have “no substantial impact” on the lives of people in, for example, Tanzania, Peru or India.
Mr McEleny affirmed that he had a fundamental belief in the right of Scotland to national sovereignty, even if Scottish independence would not necessarily lead to improved economic and social conditions for people in Scotland. His solicitor Aamer Anwar argued that the case was similar to Grainger plc v Nicholson, in which an employee's strong beliefs concerning climate change were held capable of protection.
The judge agreed with the MoD that support or active membership of a political party did not in itself amount to a philosophical belief, but said she was persuaded that the claimant's views had “a sufficiently similar cogency to a religious belief... to qualify as a philosophical belief”, and it could therefore be relied on as a “protected characteristic” in terms of the 2010 Act for claiming discrimination.
The claim can now go to a full hearing.
Mr McEleny's solicitor Aamer Anwar described the ruling as “an unprecedented legal landmark”, and called on the UK Government to launch a proper inquiry into the events. The MoD said it would be “inappropriate to comment on the details of an ongoing employment tribunal”.