The employment tribunal held that a belief in Scottish independence amounts to a philosophical belief within the meaning of S.10(2) of the Equality Act 2010 and could therefore be relied upon by the claimant as a protected characteristic for the purpose of claiming direct discrimination.
M has a deeply held, passionate belief in Scottish independence. He further believes that this is best achieved through the social democratic values of the Scottish National Party, for which he has held a number of elected positions. He brought an employment tribunal claim against
his former employer, the MoD, arguing that it had treated him less favourably on the ground of belief by suspending his security clearance and dismissing him.
An employment judge held a preliminary hearing to determine whether M’s belief constituted a ‘philosophical belief’ within the meaning of S.10(2) EqA. This required the judge to apply the criteria set out in Grainger plc and ors v Nicholson 2010 ICR 360 (Brief 890) for determining what is a ‘philosophical belief’.
The judge found that M’s belief in the values of the SNP was not philosophical in nature and therefore did not attract protection. However, M’s belief in Scottish independence did satisfy the Grainger criteria. Among other things, M’s belief was genuinely held and was not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
The judge accepted that M’s belief engages fundamental questions about how people living in Scotland are governed, including where sovereignty lies and whether decisions regarding the future of Scotland are to be taken in Scotland or elsewhere. It also attains a sufficient level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance to be a philosophical belief – this point was underlined by the fact that a referendum on independence was held in 2014.
The MoD’s application for reconsideration of the judge’s decision was rejected.