MORE than 50 data experts and academics are urging MSPs to ensure the question on sex in the next census is answered according to how people identify their gender, rather than what is on a birth certificate.

The academics from universities across Scotland and England were moved to write as MSPs consider a census order from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) on the testing of guidance on how the questions should be answered.

The group is supporting those trans- gender people who believe they should be able to answer according to the gender in which they live, rather than the sex they were born with.

They want no changes to the guidance given in the 2011 census which had said, for the first time in the 218-year history of the data collecting exercise, they could answer the question as their lived gender and say any move away from this would be “rolling back trans rights”.

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But there have been calls to ensure the sex question remain as a biological binary one – unless a transgender person has a gender recognition certificate, which legally recognises they have changed gender.

The group of nearly 50 academics have written to the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee and National Records of Scotland to request that the guidance around the sex question in the 2021 census remains unchanged so that respondents can continue to answer the question in line with how they live.


The protest letter signed by professors, researchers, academics, practitioners and data users working in universities and higher education agencies across Scotland and the UK rejects any insistence that any guidance to the sex question should refer only to a person’s sex as on a birth certificate.

The letter notes: “To request that respondents answer the census sex question in a way that does not align with how they live, how they are perceived by others and how they are represented on other official documents means that the 2021 census will count trans people incorrectly.

It goes on: “The census does a lot more than populate a national dataset for researchers and policymakers. It is also an exercise in creating norms for equality monitoring and data collection across wider Scottish society.”

Earlier this month a three-day protest was held by transgender campaigners at the Scottish Parliament, claiming potential changes to the next census are equivalent to the Section 28 law which used to ban the teaching of the acceptance of homosexuality in schools.

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The new letter highlights that there appeared to be no issues with past census guidance that advised trans respondents to answer the sex question in line with how they live.

The group say that the NRS have reaffirmed that, following “extensive quality assurance checks” of the sex data collected in the 2011 census, they have “no reason to believe that the data quality was in any way negatively impacted following the provision of guidance”.

And it notes that changing the meaning of the sex question in the 2021 census posed risks for data quality and harmon- isation with censuses across the rest of the UK.

It added: “Outside of the UK, other national statistical organisations are conducting research to assess the best approach to collect sex data.


“Although an international one-size-fits-all model is not feasible, as statistical organisations will collect and use their data in different ways, the most recent censuses in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Canada did not ask respondents to answer the sex question according to their ‘legal sex’ or the sex stated on their birth certificate.

“Changing the meaning of the sex question in the 2021 census would position Scotland as an outlier, both in terms of data harmonisation within the UK and other comparable English-speaking countries.”

The NRS has yet to decide on the final guidance, but it will have to be approved by MSPs as part of the census order.

Dr Kevin Guyan, an equality, diversity and inclusion researcher working in Edinburgh, who organised the letter said: “Scotland’s census has never specifically asked about a person’s biological sex and, when we consider the uses of census data, there is no reason why the 2021 census should change its approach.

“Opponents wish to present a false binary where the policies of equality organisations are at odds with the needs of data users and analysts. As this letter demonstrates, this is simply not the case.”

This is the letter in full.