Scotland: Judge upholds ruling that man’s independence beliefs are similar to religion
An Employment Tribunal judge has upheld a ruling that an SNP councillor’s beliefs about Scottish independence are similar to a religion.
Chris McEleny, SNP group leader on Inverclyde Council, brought a discrimination case against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) last year, claiming it unfairly targeted him over his stance on independence.
The MoD appealed the decision, but Judge Frances Eccles has rejected the legal bid.
She said it would not be “in the interests of justice” to reconsider her earlier judgement, noting the MoD had not provided any new evidence.
Judge Eccles said of Mr McEleny’s view originally 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At the time of the leadership hustings, his security clearance was revoked and he was suspended.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.”
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.”
She continued: “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.”
The MoD sought reconsideration on the basis Mr McEleny’s views “cannot possibly be shared” by the near 1.5 million people who voted for independence in the 2014 referendum.
The judge added: “I am not 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.”
Mr McEleny’s views can now be relied upon as a protected characteristic when a full hearing on the alleged discrimination takes place.
He told The Herald: “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.”