SNP MSP Joan McAlpine has appeared on national TV calling out changes to the 2021 Scottish Census, saying it risks becoming a “cosmopolitan quiz” rather than a serious data gathering exercise.
She also accused National Records of Scotland (NRS), the body responsible for creating and managing the census, as being unduly influenced by LGBT organisations, in what seemed to be another veiled attack on LGBT groups by the elected member of the Scottish Parliament.
In an interview on STV’s ‘Scotland Tonight’ programme last night (Wed 30th Oct), Ms McAlpine said the NRS are “doing what they are told” by lobby groups, inferring that LGBT organisations had too much say over the actions of the Government body.
A row has erupted after a seemingly basic misunderstanding of what NRS are proposing for the sexual orientation question in the next census. The question will have the options of Heterosexual/Straight, Gay/Lesbian, Bisexual and Other.
The ‘Other’ option has a free-text box for people to write any word which describes their own sexual orientation, examples might be pansexual, queer, questioning or literally any other word – entirely the function of a ‘free’ text box!
In the digital version of the census question, which is being tested in 3 areas around Scotland right now, the ‘Other’ option has an auto-fill predictive text function, so when a participant starts to type a letter, a number of options which start with that letter are presented. For example, as you type the letter ‘A’, then the options for Asexual etc appear.
21 options have been pre-programmed to help maintain consistency in spelling, but the box remains a free text box and ANY word can still be typed in by the participant.
However the argument has been framed as 21 strange descriptions of sexual orientation that nobody has ever heard of, making the census somehow a laughing stock.
McAlpine also asserts in her interview that the options shouldn’t stray from those defined under sexual orientation in the Equality Act, but this is also a falsehood as the descriptions used in the Act are not identical to the terms used by the NRS.
The reality is that offering LGBT+ people the chance to have their identity properly reflected in a modern national census, whether in pre-defined options or as a free-text option written in, makes the data MORE ACCURATE and reflective of ALL of Scotland’s population.
Equality Network have tweeted their frustration at the deliberate misinformation being peddled by the mainstream media and picked up by Ms McAlpine, as have others.
But the sexual orientation question in the new census does not include some random list thought-up by an NRS staffer, in fact, the agency conducted significant research and testing of the different options, including public acceptability testing and cognitive testing, in 2017.
Rather than an over bearing ‘LGBT lobby’ who tell NRS what to do, there has been reasoned and logical testing of the changes. Indeed, during cognitive testing, participants recommended adding many other descriptions (Annex B, Sect 4, Pg 22)
A majority of those who took part also said they were happy that the new questions should be asked and 78% said they would answer this question accurately.
National Records of Scotland has rejected calls for the census to include a non-binary sex option, contrary to the overwhelming influence of any ‘LGBT lobby’. A voluntary transgender status question will be asked, but the sex options remain binary as M or F.
Joan McAlpine says she supports the introduction of the new questions, including a voluntary question on transgender status for the first time, and is keen that this is a credible data gathering exercise, but then ridicules those who don’t identify with strict binary options.
Her champion cheerleader, journalist Iain Macwhirter, also waded into the row to whip up the Halloween ghouls against giving people any option of defining other than the way they themselves live.
McAlpine also grabbed the opportunity of promoting a reported ‘split’ amongst the LGBT community during her TV appearance, citing the launch of the ‘LGB Alliance’, a group which has drawn criticism for it’s anti-trans position.
MSP’s will be responsible for approving the final plan for the 2021 Census in the coming months.