Two thirds of adults living in Scotland are not religious—but the 2011 Census question won’t show that.  A scientific survey commissioned by Humanist Society Scotland demonstrates that the way the census asks about religion greatly exaggerates the number of religious adherents in Scotland. Whereas 58% of Scots say they are religious when asked the census question, just 35% of Scots reply “yes” to the question “are you religious?”

The census question on religious belief was challenged for pro-religious bias by the Humanist Society, but the Scottish Government refused to change it.

Earlier this year, Humanist Society Scotland decided to test its theory about the bias in the religion question, and commissioned a piece of comparability research through the Progressive/YouGov Scottish online Omnibus. This involved asking the Census question on religious orientation in a parallel test alongside the religious orientation question proposed by Humanist Society Scotland. 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 the week of January 10th 2011.

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 question, “Are you religious?” 56% said ‘No’, 8% said “Don’t know” and 1% skipped the question. Only 35% said “Yes”.

But even if every adult in Scotland answers the census question on religion (which is voluntary), then it may appear that 58% of the Scottish population belong to a religious group, when the real figure should be only 35%.

Mark Cuthbert, who conducted the survey on behalf of the Humanist Society Scotland, has been a leading independent research consultant in Scotland for more than 20 years. He says, “This does not stack up. The only explanation is that the Census question significantly overemphasizes the commitment of the people of Scotland to religion.”

The result of the YouGov poll is supported by other sources. In February 2008, The Times quoted a 23 page report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Asma Jahangir, showing that “two-thirds of British people do not admit any religious affiliation”

Full results of the research can be downloaded here (.xls).

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