Census can help shape Scotland’s future

A New Year Message from Scotland’s Registrar General, Duncan Macniven who is responsible for Scotland’s Census.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 6th January 2011, 8:15 am

New Year is a time to look ahead and reflect on the past as individuals but it’s also a time to look forward - and 2011 sees two once a decade events take place which help us as a nation plan for the future and consider our past.

The first is our look ahead with the biggest population survey – the 2011 Census.

The census is the only survey to ask us all the same questions at the same time. It is how people across Scotland send a message to government and businesses about the services they and their community need, now and in the future. So it is a vital part of the democratic process, painting a picture of our nation in order to shape its future.

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Like the last census, in 2001, and every census before it, everyone will be included in the 2011 Census. The personal information which is collected will be kept confidential for 100 years. That means in 2111 your descendents can trace their family roots - just as family historians are now looking forward to the publication of Scotland’s 1911 Census records.

And that’s the second of our nation-wide events: an opportunity to see how Scotland has changed since George V was on the throne.

This April, details of more than 4.7million Scots counted in the 1911 Census will be made available for the first time – exactly 100 years after the date of the census. This will add to the statistical census results available for the period since 1801 which provide such valuable information on Scotland’s past.

Why do we need to count everyone every decade? Well, a big part of the answer is about making sure public money is spent wisely. The census paints a picture of Scotland as a nation and its communities. This reliable measure of the size of the population and anonymised statistics about our circumstances – including age, health, accommodation – is used to help target and deliver billions of pounds worth of public services. This is as true now as it was in 1911.

We need to ask these questions because, at the moment, there is no other way to build a complete picture of our nation at a time when our individual circumstances are changing and so are our local communities and society in general.

New communities have established themselves here, making Scotland a more diverse place. Our population is aging, more people live alone and family structures and living arrangements are becoming increasingly complex.

By asking similar questions over the decades we see how we develop as a nation but just as people change so too does the census. 2011 sees a questionnaire re-designed to make it easier to follow with more tick box options. Some questions have been revised and new ones added. The questionnaire can be filled in online for the first time, in both English and Gaelic.

Census questionnaires will be delivered to Scotland’s 2.5 million households shortly before census day on Sunday, March 27.

Census day is a major event, but planning for it began in 2004. The content of the 2011 Census questionnaire has been so carefully considered based on extensive consultation. There are 13 questions about the household and 35 questions about each person who usually lives at that address. Given its vital importance, participation in the census is compulsory and all questions must be answered – although the question about religion is voluntary. Collecting the information is just the start of the life of the statistics which are due to be available from Autumn 2012.

The General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) will continue to work very hard to make the 2011 Census successful, particularly as it marks 150 years since Scotland’s Registrar General took responsibility for running the census. It is one of the biggest logistical undertakings by the public sector in Scotland and involves us, for example, recruiting more than 6,000 temporary filed staff.

I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to date and everyone who will participate in 2011. Look out for your census questionnaire towards the end of March and may I wish you a very prosperous new year.

The 2011 questionnaire and further details about the census can be found at www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk. A good starting point for finding out more about your family history is www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk