The long-awaited results from Scotland’s Census 2011 was published today at 09.30 hours by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) . Release 2A provided “key results on Population, Ethnicity, Identity, Language (including Gaelic), Religion, Health, Housing and Accommodation in Scotland”. Note Scots was not mentioned. There was a media briefing by Tim Ellis, NRS Chief Executive and Registrar General for Scotland and Amy Wilson, Head of Census Statistics at New Register House in Edinburgh.
I was luckily enough to be working from home so was able to follow the release on the Scots Language Centre’s Facebook page. At 8.15 Michael Hance teased us with ” Hearin affa interestin rumours aboot the nummer o fowk that said they cuid speak Scots in response tae the census quaistions. Details nae oot tae 0930“. By 9.45 he posted “Exact speaker feegir: 1,541,693“. “WOW! bet that’s higher than ANYBODY thought!” replied one poster. But in fact it was “nae aw that far awa fae whit Horsbroch an Murdoch funnd whan they did thon study for the GRO(S) in 1996“.
As I posted “OMG. The gemm haes jist chynged.”
But had it, really? Language activists swarmed to the just-released NRS web page Statistical Bulletin Release 2A – 26 September 2013. The two key documents were the Release 2A Statistical Bulletin – PDF (with a range of figures and tables from Release 2A available download) and the Key Points NRS news release.
The Bulletin said (p 27) “In 2011, the proportion of the population aged 3 and over in Scotland who reported they could speak, read, write or understand Scots was 38 per cent (1.9 million). For Scotland as a whole, 30 per cent (1.5 million) of the population aged 3 and over reported they were able to speak Scots. The council areas with the highest proportions able to speak Scots were Aberdeenshire and Shetland Islands (49 per cent each), Moray (45 per cent) and Orkney Islands (41 per cent). The lowest proportions reported were in Eilean Siar (7 per cent), City of Edinburgh (21 per cent), Highland and Argyll & Bute (22 per cent each).”
Fantastic, “30 per cent (1.5 million) of the population aged 3 and over reported they were able to speak Scots“, at last the magic data we had all been waiting for!
But hang on, the very next paragraph said; “The census data on language skills in Scots needs to be carefully qualified. The question on language skills in the census questionnaire was relatively poorly answered. For example, a significant number of respondents provided information on their skills in Scots but did not indicate any corresponding abilities in relation to English, perhaps suggesting they considered Scots and English as inter-changeable in this context. Researchcarried out prior to the census also suggests that people vary considerably in their interpretation of what is meant by “Scots” as a language, resulting in the potential for inconsistencies in the data collected“.
The ‘research’ mentioned was the 2009 Ipsos MORI survey to test draft test the impact of including Scots as a language question in the Census. Among other things the survey found “understanding of what is meant by ‘Scots’ is very varied and there is considerable confusion about the meaning of the term“(p 8). Bear in mind this was before the Aye Can campaign to address this very issue. However NRS had evidently taken this ambivalence, not as a starting point for public debate, but as an excuse to ‘cleanse’ the Census data of the Scots results.
Scots had just been ‘disappeared’.