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Scottish independence is a “philosophical belief” under discrimination law

Scottish independence is a “philosophical belief” under discrimination law

An employment tribunal has held that a belief in Scottish independence amounts to a “philosophical belief” for the purposes of UK discrimination law.

In a case brought against his former employer the Ministry of Defence, Scottish National Party councillor Christopher McEleny has successfully argued that his belief in Scottish independence amounts to a philosophical belief in respect of which he is protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

The employment tribunal, ruling in Mr McEleny’s favour, held that, whilst support or membership of a political party does not of itself amount to a philosophical belief, Mr McEleny’s fundamental belief in the right of Scotland to national sovereignty had a sufficiently similar cogency to a religious belief. 

In arriving at its decision, the Tribunal paid close regard to the previous decision of Grainger plc and others v Nicholson in which a belief in climate change was held to be a philosophical belief.  In Grainger, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that, for a belief to qualify as a philosophical belief, it must be genuinely held, be a belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available, be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity or in conflict with the fundamental rights of others, and have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.

Taking the view that sovereignty and self determination are weighty and substantial aspects of human life, the employment tribunal found that Mr McEleny’s belief in the sovereignty of Scotland did meet the tests set out in Grainger.

Whilst it remains to be seen whether the case might be appealed by the Ministry of Defence, with the definition of “philosophical belief” continuing to be tested before the Courts (see our previous blog here), this latest case by Mr McEleny prompts the question as to whether a belief in (or against) Brexit, and UK sovereignty and self determination, could also be capable of amounting to a philosophical belief…

By Morag Moffett

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