Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday, 1 October 2005

New question for Scottish census ...

The General Register Office, which runs census operations in Scotland, is considering (according to an article in the Edinburgh Evening News) about respondents' sexuality. They are planning to 'testbed' it by conducting a sample survey to see how it is received, before introducing it to the full census, the next one being due in 2011. There are, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which runs such matters in England and Wales, has no plans to ask a similar question. The question will be optional in the Scottish version.

I'm not sure how I feel about being asked this question. I can see that it might be useful for planners to know and, in the light of anti-discrimination legislation which will soon (at last!) cover gays/lesbians/bisexuals, etc, this may be doubly so. Whilst the current 'official' attitude toward people who are not heterosexual is broadly supportive, or at least non-discriminatory (which is not the same thing!), this might not always be so. Things change. Imagine you are a Jew in Germany during the mid-1920s, a fairly non-religious Jew who is basically just another German to external appearances, and you are asked, perfectly innocently, for government planning purposes, to give information about religion/ethnicity. Fair enough. From 1933 onwards you might feel rather differently. Just look at what is going on in Europe (Austria, Germany and France, for example) at present, vis-a-vis Moslems generally and the possibility of Turkey joining the EU. Or in the wake of the murder of Theo van Gogh recently in the Netherlands. And not forgetting, of course, what is going on amongst our cousins in the US, a country that has traditionally had considerable influence on social developments in the UK, sometimes with a delay of twenty or so years.

So whilst I broadly share the views of Tim Hopkins, of the National Equality Network, and of Stonewall, I also read with interest the comments attributed to Mike Parker, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance in Scotland: "The advantage of this type of question might be that it will give a realistic picture of how many people have that type of lifestyle and it may show the figures are a lot less than people expect." - perhaps so, but so what? Will the authorities then decide that because there are fewer than it imagined, they can safely ride roughshod, as has tradtionally been the case, because this group is electorally insignificant? I can't see the likes of Mike Parker rushing to my defence!

On balance, therefore, whilst I support broadly the idea of an optional question of this nature, I am not going to become 'starry-eyed' about it; I'll observe carefully how things develop on the ground.

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