On his Channel 5 show on 3 August, the broadcaster Jeremy Vine proposed that anyone talking about Scottish independence while at work should be “fired.” In doing so, Vine displayed his ignorance of Scottish politics and, much more importantly, of how liberal democracy works. He also demonstrated quite staggering ignorance of politics itself.
Vine was discussing what kind of conversations are acceptable in the workplace. He said:
“An example of it would be where I think if you’re a boss you might object is if you were in Scotland and you’ve got somebody who wants to talk about Scottish independence and we know that’s very divisive.
That’s going to really set the cat among the pigeons and so you might want to take them on one side and say look, for or against doesn’t matter, just put a sock in it when you’re working here or you’re fired.”
He was obviously ignorant of the fact that a 2018 Employment Tribunal ruled that support for Scottish independence is a philosophical belief entitled to the protection of the 2010 Equality Act. It is remarkable that a court had to rule on a matter that most of us would consider to be a perfectly legitimate political belief.
Mr Vine might be surprised to learn there are a significant number of employers in Scotland who favour independence. In fact, there is a full time and well-staffed organisation called Business for Scotland (BfS). If BfS supporting employers hear an employee promoting Scotland’s continuing place in the United Kingdom, should they able to fire that person for their divisive views? Again, perhaps Mr Vine is ignorant about polls over the past three years. The latest poll, on 9 August, from Redfield & Wilton, says 45% of Scottish voters in favour of independence. In the past year, the figure has been as high of 56%
Like many people in my business and social circles, I’m a convinced opponent of Brexit. Among many of the too numerous to mention faults of Brexit is that it is the most divisive policy introduced by any UK government of the modern era. Indeed, it was Brexit that reignited the Scottish independence cause. Told in 2014 that the only way to stay in the EU was to vote to stay in the UK, Scots took it very badly when that promise was simply brushed aside by the Brexit Tory party. Scotland, Mr Vine, voted 62% Remain. Not one single voting district voted Leave.
Would Mr Vine have anyone who discussed Brexit at work – for or against – have them fired? Well, I wouldn’t. It is the democratic right of any citizens to express political views. It is called free speech. Like all rights there are limits. But support for an independent Scotland or for the UK out of the EU, are both wholly proper political positions. In that respect they are no different for support for the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrats. There is nothing in law or logic that makes those parties and their beliefs intellectually, legally or constitutionally superior in any way to believe in Brexit or in Scottish independence.
If the UK were to have followed Mr Vine’s position, millions over the decades might have been fired for championing Indian independence, or ending slavery, or outlawing child labour. Or protesting Mrs Thatcher’s poll tax. How about independence for Ireland? To this day, a very large number of people in Northern Ireland believe the six counties of the North should quit the UK and be reunited with the sovereign state that is Ireland. Does he propose that this view expressed at work might constitute a reason for dismissal? That Irish reunification is a divisive political belief is beyond dispute. That it is an entirely legitimate position is also beyond dispute.
The English Civil War – the divisive event until Brexit
What is inescapable is that all politics is divisive. The best example I can suggest to Mr Vine is the English Civil War. While that event had consequences for Scotland and Ireland, it was in conception, execution and resolution an essentially English affair. It saw the death of a King and the end of monarchy. It witnessed the suppression of Catholicism and the supremacy of the English parliament. It was until Brexit the most divisive event in English history.
I suspect Mr Vine knows little of Scottish history. I doubt he knows that the 1706 proposal to end Scotland’s status as sovereign state was hugely unpopular across Scotland. When the deed was done and the 1707 Act of Union approved by the parliaments of Edinburgh and London there were riots across Scotland.
How about the peace camp women who encircled Greenham Common US air base to protest about the UK giving a home to nuclear armed Cruise missiles? For as long as anyone can remember, there have been campaigners outside the UK’s nuclear submarine base on the Clyde. Should support for their wholly moral and wholly peaceful actions lead to dismissal from employment?
Maybe we should look to the Countryside Alliance. 400,000 of its supporters marched on London in September 2002. They were passionately opposed to legislation that if passed by parliament would ban hunting with dogs. During the protest they disrupted the proceedings of the House of Lords. Hunting with dogs was banned soon after.
It’s likely that many in rural areas would like to see that law repealed. Should they be banned from talking about it at work? Should their livelihoods be at risk? Is a divisive issue? You bet it is, which is the main reason the Tories have not dreamt of ending the ban on hunting with dogs. For the people of these islands Brexit may be a difficult issue. As are nuclear weapons and Scottish independence. But any moves to overturn the law on hunting with dogs might see division, riot and law-breaking by the pro-fox lobby that would make the poll tax riots of 1990 look like a small disagreement at the monthly meeting of Dibley Parish Council.
Jeremy Vine goes to school
You must understand Mr Vine, politics is a passionate business. In a democracy it is not for employers to stop people freely expressing their political point of view. It is not for employers to penalise employees if an employee’s politics are different from those of the boss.
I note you graduated from the University of Durham with a degree in English. Can I suggest you use some of your summer break to read up on the history and politics of Scotland. Better still, why not visit Scotland. Learn about its politics and history. I can suggest at least 10 people across the political divide, from business, from our great universities, from the law and from journalism. We believe in education in Scotland. In fact, we’ve just been ranked as the 4th best educated country in the world. We’d be delighted to share our knowledge and thoughts.
There’s a TV show in that. Jeremy Vine goes to school.
We need your help!
The press in our country is dominated by billionaire-owned media, many offshore and avoiding paying tax. We are a citizen journalism publication but still have significant costs.
If you believe in what we do, please consider subscribing to the Bylines Gazette from as little as £2 a month🙏