AN employment tribunal pursued by an SNP councillor against the Ministry of Defence is set to focus on whether Scottish independence amounts to a “philosophical” belief.

In a test case Christopher McEleny is expected to argue that he was discriminated against by the MoD because of his membership of the SNP and nationalist views.

An MoD spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on the details of an ongoing employment tribunal.”

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In 2016, McEleny, the SNP group leader on Inverclyde Council, announced his bid to become his party’s deputy leader.

He was also an electrician at the MoD plant in Beith, North Ayrshire, before which he worked at the government defence site at Coulport.

In mid-August of the same year, days after the leadership hustings began, McEleny had his security clearance revoked and he was suspended.

National Security Vetting, which is part of the MoD, then quizzed him on whether he was suitable for clearance.

A range of subjects were said to have been raised, such as McEleny’s anti-Trident position, social media activity on Irish politics and a speech he gave to his party’s conference in 2012. He was also asked about his battle with depression.

It is understood McEleny’s clearance was reinstated last year, but he quit and is taking a tribunal case against the ministry.

Under the Equality Act (2010) individuals are not allowed to be discriminated against on account of religious or philosophical belief, the latter of which is believed to form the basis of McEleny’s argument.

A belief must be “genuinely held” and have a “certain level of cogency, seriousness, coherency, and importance”. It should also be “worthy of respect in a democratic society” and not simply be an “opinion or viewpoint”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission website offers an example of a protected belief:

“For example, an employee believes strongly in man-made climate change and feels that they have a duty to live their life in a way which limits their impact on the earth to help save it for future generations. This would be classed as a belief and protected under the Act.”

However, the Commission also offers guidance on the type of belief that would not be “worthy of respect” in a democratic society:

“For example, an employee believes that white people are a superior race to others and tells their colleagues so. This would not be classed as a belief protected under the Act.”

Aamer Anwar, who has been advising the councillor, said: “Mr McEleney has a passionate, long-term and unshakeable belief in Scottish independence. Those with genuinely held non-religious beliefs have long been the subject of protection from discrimination, including those aligned with Marxism, veganism, and pacifism. Whilst there are many legal hurdles he will require to jump, it is clear from case law, that in order to qualify from freedom from discrimination, a ‘philosophical belief, does not need to amount to an -ism’.

“Mr McEleney is entitled to be true to his deeply-held convictions in all aspects of his life and should not be the subject of discrimination because of them. His treatment at the hands of the MoD should be of concern any person who believes in the right of a citizen’s right to peacefully engage in our democracy, even if that means arguing for independence.”

Extracts from a historic MoD file, obtained by this newspaper, reveal the department’s interest in McEleny’s political views.

It stated: “As previously mentioned, the Subject said that he has an interest in Irish history and Irish nationalism as his family are originally from Donegal; the Subject said that he enjoyed finding out more about his cultural identity and during conversation, it became apparent that the Subject is indeed very well read on 20th century Irish politics and nationalism.”

The tribunal is expected to begin later this month. McEleny declined to comment.