We challenge census result on religious belief

September 26, 2013

The Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) challenges the 2011 Census statistics published today by the Registrar General of Scotland, that say that more than half the population of Scotland is religious.

The Census figures add up as follows: 56% religious, 37% non-religious and 7% not stated.

HSS Chair Anders Östberg says, “The Census result suggests that many more people say they belong to a religion than is the case. The government will use census data to justify maintaining faith schools, and the funding of religious patient support services in the NHS, while religious groups will use it to lobby for their own institutions, and promote greater separation in our already dangerously divided society.”

The HSS first challenged the census question on religious belief in January 2011, when it conducted two YouGov polls*.

In the first, we asked the Census question, “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?” and 58% of respondents claimed a religious affiliation.

But when we asked “Are you religious?” in the second poll, only 35% said “Yes”.

The approach allowed exactly comparable samples to be used to test both sets of questions, and two sets of interviews, each of 1,000 adults, were conducted by Progressive/YouGov during w/c January 10th 2011.

The 2011 Census figures suggest that 37% of the population of Scotland is not religious. This is particularly questionable since the 2013 Social Attitudes Survey suggests the true figure is 48%.

“If the 2011 census gives an inaccurate picture of our beliefs as a society”, says Östberg, “it may lead to further discrimination against non-religious people. Our survey shows that Scotland is already effectively a secular country.

“Even though the Census results don’t show the true picture on belief in Scotland, we urge the government to to recognise that most of us are in fact non-religious, and share the same desire for fairness on issues like Equal Marriage and End of Life, which enjoy widespread support from people of all faiths and none.

“It’s also time the Scottish government to recognise that there is no longer any justification for religious representation on local authority education committees. It doesn’t reflect the way most of us live these days, and it simply isn’t right that unelected religious representatives can decide local educational policy”.

*Total sample size was 2007 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 10th – 14th January 2011 . The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish adults (aged 18+). Mark Cuthbert, who conducted the survey on behalf of the HSS, has been a leading independent research consultant in Scotland for more than 20 years.

About the research


Humanist Society Scotland commissioned a piece of comparability research through the Progressive/YouGov Scottish online Omnibus. The results were startlingly different.

When asked the Census question, “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?” 42% of the adult population in Scotland said ‘None’. But when asked the Humanist Society of Scotland question, “Are you religious?” 56% said ‘No’, 8% said ‘Don’t know’ and 1% skipped the question. Only 35% said ‘Yes’.

Mark Cuthbert, who conducted the survey, is a leading independent research consultant. He says, “This does not stack up. The only explanation is that the Census question significantly overemphasises the commitment of the people of Scotland to religion.

Full details of the research.



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