We need your help to secure a Pagan tick-box in the 2021 census

By Steffy VonScott, Sept 28 2019

For the past few decades, one of our primary campaigns has been to get a Pagan tick-box into the Scottish Census. Having a Pagan tick-box has two important factors: it increases our visibility and it ensures our number are accurately captured.

We started this campaign back in 2001 when the General Register Office for Scotland (GRoS) was unable to make the census results for Pagans and other, small, religious minorities freely available because doing so required a manual count at additional cost.

This led to us lobbying ministers, petitioning parliament, and finally raising more than £2000 to have the information released so we could conduct a detailed analysis. Our findings revealed that 1,930 people had identified themselves as Pagan but we knew this didn’t reflect the true number of Pagans in Scotland.

Fast-forward to now and we are once-again at the stage where GRoS have recommended that a Pagan tick-box is included in the next census, and this time they have the support of local authorities, health services and many more public bodies. This is where we need your support, because we got this far in 2011 only for an MSP to knock it out “to make more room for Christian dominations”.

While we didn’t manage to get a Pagan tick-box in 2011, we did raise awareness of the issue and encouraged more Pagans to disclose themselves in the census – 5,194 of them, but we know there are more Pagans than that in Scotland.

We need to make sure the true size of our community is captured so that our rights and are respected and our faith is recognised and respected. It will also ensure we have stronger case for Paganism to be included in religious education curriculum within schools and have more recognition in interfaith and university chaplaincy.

Please help us secure a Pagan tick-box in the 2021 Census by writing a letter to your MSPs – both for your constituency and those in the regional list for your area.

What we need you to do:

Step 1 – find out who to write to

To find out who your constituency MSP and regional MSPs are type your postcode into: www.parliament.scot/msps.aspx This also gives you their email addresses.

A complete listing of all MSPs can be found at: www.parliament.scot/msps/current-msps.aspx

Please make sure you write to both your constituency MSP and your Regional List MSPs.

Step 2 – include these facts in your letter

To make it easier for people we have provided a ‘Sample Letter’ below that you can copy and paste into an email or print, sign and send by post. Feel free to edit it or create your own letter using these facts.

  • The draft Scottish Census form will be put before our parliament later this year.
  • GRoS is recommending that a Pagan tick-box is included in the 2021 census, like they did that for the 2011 Census but it was taken out at the parliamentary stage.
  • That a Pagan tick-box is included in the religion question in the Scottish Surveys Core Questions set, including the three largest surveys in Scotland: the Scottish Household Survey (SHS); the Scottish Health Survey (SHeS); and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS).
  • That the recent GRoS update recommends including a Pagan tick-box to improve comparability with other Scottish Government surveys, reduce costs of designing surveys, to ensure participants understand what is being asked by using thoroughly tested questions, ensure outputs can be grouped in ways that are useful for analysis and reduce risk of offence when asking about sensitive subjects because the questions have been widely consulted on. See Ethnic Group and Religion Question Development Update (Section 6.2 - Page 19) www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/news/2021-question-development-update-ethnic-group
  • The 2001 Scottish Census results has 1,930 people identify themselves as Pagan and the 2011 Scottish Census results has 5,194 people identifying as Pagan.
  • That a Pagan tick-box is important as it provides the only accurate means of determining the number of Pagans in Scotland.
  • That Paganism is a rapidly growing faith community in modern Scotland.
  • A Pagan tick-box makes it easier for people to identify themselves as Pagan.
  • It also helps to remove anxiety about identifying as Pagan on an official document.
  • It also means that Pagan numbers are being assessed in the same way as the numbers for the other main non-Christian religions, thus providing a more accurate comparison.

Step 3 – Keep us updated on your progress

Email us at census@scottishpf.org and tell us which MSPs you have written to. If possible, please copy your message and any replies to us. This will allow us to identify and cover any gaps.

Sample letter

Postal address:
The Scottish Parliament
EH99 1SP

Dear (MSP's name),

I am writing to you with regards to proposed changes planned to the Scottish Census 2021 in relation to the Religion and Belief section of the questions, and with respect to the inclusion of a ‘tick-box’ for Paganism as per the latest GRoS recommendations.

The inclusion of this change is incredibly important to the Scottish Pagan faith community, and we would urge you do everything within your power to support this change.

The draft form of this update will be put before parliament later this year for final approval and sign-off, with proposed updates to the section highlighted in the GRoS report ‘Ethnic Group and Religion Question Development Update’.

In Section 6.2 of this report GRoS states that there is "user need" for the information a Pagan tick-box in the 2021 census would provide.

The Scottish Census 2011 clearly established Paganism as the sixth largest non-Christian religion here in Scotland. This also established us as one of the fastest growing religions in modern Scotland, with our numbers almost trebling in a decade. In the 2001 Scottish Census we polled 1,930 Pagans, while in the 2011 Scottish Census we polled 5,194 pagans, however experts believe this number is closer to 30,000.

With the lack of their own tick-box, Scottish Pagans still have to write their faith in the ‘Other’ box. We know that many Pagans are still too nervous to do this for fear of discrimination, given the prejudice many Pagans have faced in past generations. Those attitudes are softening, which may reflect the large jump in numbers between 2001 and 2011, as more and more feel confident to self-identify with each passing decade. However, because of this no one really knows how many Pagans there are truly here in Scotland.

The Census results are incredibly important to us because it provides the only accurate means of determining Pagan numbers here in Scotland. Being able to demonstrate that we are a significant and rapidly growing faith community in modern Scotland has greatly helped us in securing recognition and countering discrimination since 2001.

The Equality Act of 2010, part 2, chapter 1, section 10, also clearly sets religion and belief as one of the protected characteristics under Scottish Law, while part 2, chapter 2, section 13, clearly sets it is a direct discrimination to treat one faith less favourably than it would treat others under Scottish Law. Yet until now Paganism has been excluded, while other minority religions with comparable numbers have been included. The exclusion of Paganism clearly breaches the Equality Act.

A Pagan tick-box is already included in the religious question asked in the Scottish Household Survey, the Scottish Health Survey, the Scottish Crime & Justice Survey and other Scottish Government surveys. It's omission from the census is an anachronism that should be corrected.

Having a Pagan tick-box in the census is incredibly important because makes it easier for people to identify themselves as Pagans and reduce anxiety for Pagans to identify as Pagan in an official document. The Pagan tick-box will also mean that data on Paganism is being collected in the same way as data on the other main non-Christian faiths in Scotland, allowing more accurate comparison.

While it is great that GRoS are recommending the addition of a Pagan tick-box for the 2021 Census, and that they are making it clear that its stakeholders (including local councils) want this tick-box, I hope that this letter illustrates a growing number of voters in your constituency who want a Pagan tick-box in the census too.

Kindest regards,
(Your signature)