ASKING someone whether they were born male or female in the next Scottish census would be an invasion of privacy, the boss of a leading equality organisation has said.

Tim Hopkins, director of the Equality Network, said Scots should be asked what sex they identify as, rather than whether they were born a boy or a girl.

This would include allowing them to identify as non-binary – neither male nor female.

Scottish Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said many would think Mr Hopkins’ assertion “goes too far”.

It comes as ministers consider changes to the Scottish census which would enable details about someone’s gender identity and sexual orientation to be gathered voluntarily.

Academics and feminists have raised fears the plans would risk conflating sex and gender, rendering the data meaningless.

But Mr Hopkins said asking what sex a person was born as, before then moving on to a voluntary question about gender identity, would be an invasion of privacy.

He told MSPs: “If the sex question is going to be compulsory, then if it asks about sex at birth, that is going to be an invasion of privacy because people who are living as men or women – trans men or women – will have to answer that question with the opposite of the way they live.

“So a trans woman will have to put male, and that is an invasion of her privacy.

“If the question asks about your self-identified sex then a trans woman will be able to put woman, and her privacy is protected from that point of view.”

Mr Hopkins was giving evidence to Holyrood’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, which is examining the Census (Amendment) Bill.

A policy memorandum published alongside the legislation said the last census, in 2011, recognised “that society‘s understanding of sex has changed” and allowed people to answer with the sex they identified as.

But it said the 2021 census needs a “more inclusive approach to measuring sex” and should include non-binary options – allowing people to identify as neither male nor female.

It adds: “Importantly, the sex question proposed will not seek a declaration of biological or legal sex.”

Mr Hopkins said the census had asked about self-identified sex, rather than biological sex, for the past 20 years – and changing the question now would be a “retrograde step”.

He said: “We are absolutely clear, in our view, that asking about the sex you live as will first of all be consistent with the previous censuses, and secondly give you the most useful information.

“To not do it would also be an invasion of privacy. The European Court of Human Rights has been very clear that the reason trans people are allowed, or have the ability to change their legal gender is to protect their privacy.

“Asking people about their biological sex characteristics when they were born is a breach of their privacy.

“So at the very least, the question should ask about legal sex and not about biological sex, so that it protects people’s privacy in the way that the European Court has been very clear it should be protected.

“In our view it’s consistent with other legislation and with the previous two censuses to ask about how you live your life, about your self-identified, lived gender – the gender you interact with other people in.”

However Mr Fraser said the comments amounted to dancing on the head of a pin.

He said: "Everyone accepts a system needs to be in place whereby transgender people are respected and not discriminated against in any way.

"But people will think this particular assertion goes too far.

"For a start, a person's gender at birth is a matter of public record.

"Dancing on a head of a pin will only distract from the very genuine issues the LGBT community face.

“And there is a real risk that if people perceive that census questions are pursuing a particular socio-political agenda, the public consent necessary for the census to be comprehensive will be jeopardised."