THE MINISTER responsible for Scotland’s census fiasco has admitted it would have been easier to reach people had it not been delayed for a year – but has insisted it was the right thing to do.

The census was due to take place in May 2021, but was put on hold for 12 months due to the pandemic.

But low response rates forced ministers to fork out an additional £6m to twice extend the deadline, but the study still failed to reach the 94% target. Instead 89.2% of Scots respondent, with the total costs reaching £144.6m.

SNP Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson has told MSPs that it was still the correct decision to delay the study, unlike in other parts of the UK, despite it resulting in a poorer response rate.

He suggested that the lack of response was down to changing attitudes and not a one-off poor performance for the Scottish census.

Appearing before Holyrood’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, Mr Robertson insisted it was “factually incorrect” to suggest that the census “will not be providing high quality data”, adding that “it is, it will and it has delivered”.

He added: “It is having to deliver in a different way to previous census and I think that need will continue.

“All lessons that need to be learned have to be learned.”

Mr Robertson boasted to MSPs that “almost a 90% return rate has been achieved”, claiming that the online-only strategy “generally worked very well”.

The Auditor General of the National Records for Scotland, which collected the data, said there had been a “good and robust response”.

Mr Robertson insisted that a huge amount of communication and engagement had been undertaken to ensure those hold to reach took part in the census – adding there had been “a significant effort across all means to try and get the maximum return rate”.

Conservative MSP Donald Cameron warned that “the stark reality of Scotland’s census is it is approximately eight or nine per cent behind the rest of the UK” in terms of response rate and pointed to divergence between UK nations and different parts of Scotland.

Mr Robertson said: “It’s entirely reasonable to ask why was there a variable rate of return between Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

He added: “It is unavoidable that the effect of people in their houses during the pandemic is a significant contributory factor to the ability of being able to reach people, particularly in more challenging social demographic backgrounds.

“That does not make me revisit the question of whether the timing in Scotland was correct or not.”

He added that delaying if until this year was “the right response in Scotland”.