Two out of three Scots never go to church or any other religious service, according to robust new research.

The figure, the highest ever recorded, is just the latest evidence that Scotland is now an overwhelmingly secular country. 

However, authoritative research for the highly respected Scottish Social Attitudes survey also found that nearly half of the population still identifies with one faith or another.

Only 52 per cent of those questioned for the survey by the ScotCen Social Research team said they had “no religion” while 66 per cent they “never or practically never” attended religious services apart from events like weddings, christenings or funerals.

Ian Montagu, Researcher at ScotCen, said “Today’s findings show that Scottish commitment to religion, both in terms of our willingness to say we belong to a religion and to attend religious services, is in decline. 

“However, this change doesn’t appear to be affecting all religions equally. 

“Affiliation with the Church of Scotland is in decline while levels of identification with other religions remain relatively unchanged. 

“As fewer Scots are acknowledging even a default religious identity, it is affiliation with the national church that is the hardest hit.”

The number of people describing themselves as being Church of Scotland has plummeted from 35 per cent since ScotCen’s research began in 1999 to just 20 per cent now.

Other religious groups, including Roman Catholic (15%), other Christian (11%) and non-Christian (2%), have remained steady.

Father Tom Boyle, assistant general secretary, Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, stressed that there was more to religious identity than just turning up at church.

He said: “In the 2011 Census there were about 100,000 more people who identified themselves as Catholic than we actually had on our books.  “Catholicism can be seen as cultural as well as a faith commitment but it would be a mistake to think that non-attendance on a regular basis means that the person doesn’t believe or pray.  

“Sunday practice is one measure of religious affiliation but the hidden affiliation of prayer and belief isn’t always measured in such surveys.”

The ScotCen figures showed that the number of people who go to church at least once a week is falling less quickly than the overall trend, suggesting a hard core of devout adherents.

Back in 1999 some 19 per cent of Scots went to a religious service at least one a week. In 2015 the figure was 14 per cent. 

Secularists latched on the figures - especially for actual attendance at church services - to question the continued official role of religious organisations in schools.

Gordon MacRae, chief executive of the Humanist Society Scotland said:

"It really is time for politicians to catch up with the reality of modern Scottish society. 

"It's completely unjustified that church groups continue to enjoy historic privileges in the state education system. 

“These anachronisms should be confined to the past, and should not play any part in a 21st Century education system.”

However, researchers at ScotCen stress that the number of people who say they are religious has peaked and roughed in recent years, depending on the context of the questions. Some people continue to express a cultural affinity to one of the big faiths even if they do not actually believe in God or attend church. 

A Church of Scotland spokeswoman said: "This is no great surprise, but whatever people may say about their religious practice, the Church of Scotland will be there for them when the chips are down.

"It's at vital moments in life that people appreciate the wonder and mystery of it all, so the Church has the exciting challenge of speaking into that fertile space."