Scottish Daily Mail
New gender ID row as academics issue warning over census
CENSUS chiefs have been accused of confusing gender and sex in a row over self-identification.
Concerns have been raised about guidance that suggests Scots should declare whether they are male or female based on how they self-identify rather than their legal sex.
National Records of Scotland (NRS) put forward the proposal despite serious concerns over the conflation of gender and sex in the 2021 census.
But academics have written to census bosses, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to warn this could cause confusion and affect the accuracy of the data.
In 2011, guidance published online ahead of that year’s census sparked fury as it allowed people to state their sex based on how they identified, ignoring birth certificates and whether they had a gender recognition certificate.
Authorities had considered introducing a third non-binary option to the sex question in 2021, but this was scrapped.
Proposed guidance to accompany the sex question in 2021 states: ‘If you are transgender the answer you give can be different from what is on our birth certificate. You don’t need a gender recognition certificate.’
But policy analyst Dr Kath Murray said: ‘The proposed question and guidance carries risks in terms of data reliability and consistency over time, as well as equalities monitoring. It is particularly concerning that officials have ignored the advice of 80 of the UK’s most eminent academics, working in relevant disciplines, who have called on the census authorities “to retain the integrity of the category of sex, and not to conflate this with gender identity”.’
Concerns have also been raised by Alice Sullivan, Professor of sociology at University College London. She said: ‘It is deeply worrying that the views of the scientific community have not been taken on board.’
The academics’ letter was sent to the directors of the three UK census authorities, as well as to Miss Sturgeon and Mr Johnson.
It said online guidance issued in 2011 should not be seen as a precedent to follow in the future.
It added: ‘The introduction of guidance in 2011 was not subjected to a full consultation with data users, nor was an equality impact assessment undertaken.’
However, the academics have backed a voluntary question on gender being included in the 2021 census.
Different from the sex question, this would allow people to note how they self-identify while using their legal sex elsewhere.
According to the NRS, a study found that most people will not consider the guidance before completing the census.
Its report states: ‘The basis on which they answer is therefore not explicitly defined and, therefore, NRS take the position that selfidentification captures the reality of how people complete this census question.’
It said research had suggested that three times as many transgender and non-binary Scots would answer a sex question based on how they self-identified rather than their legal sex.
The report added: ‘A binary sex question with self-identification guidance therefore supports participation for all people with the census and clarifies to data providers and data users the basis of the question.’
A spokesman for the NRS said the final decisions on Scotland’s 2021 census questions will be made by MSPs next year.
‘Ignored advice of academics’