Friday 12 December 2008

One Census this may not be all it seems

And they're off!

Murdo Fraser, Deputy Leader of her Majesty's (AG, of course) Conservatives, led the attack, accusing your friendly neighbourhood SNP Scottish Government of forcing people to choose between being Scottish and being British. He was closely followed (careful there, Murdo) by Michael McMahon (The Scotsman got the spelling of his name wrong - nae respect), the sage of Bellshill and Labour's Business Manager. There was the faintest whiff of xenophobia (which I am sure that neither of these tribunes intended) and the highest tinge of dudgeon to their comments which are, unfortunately, entirely without foundation.

Ah, woe is them...

If only they had taken a few seconds to read the Government statement published by GRO they could have left their collective blood pressure at a resting torrent for therein they could have clicked the link to the recommended questions compared to the 2001 questions. Have a look at page 34 - the ethnicity question will, indeed, allow people to choose between (each having its own check-box):
Scottish, English, Welsh, Northern Irish, British, Irish, Gypsy/Traveller, Polish, or Other white ethnic group (a write-in).

The next section allows people to indicate that they believe themselves to be a combination of these. Is this forcing people to choose between being Scots and being British? Well, here's the groups that were available in the last census (2001):
Scottish, Other British, Irish, Any other White background

Followed by the 'mixed' question. Surely it was this one that truly forced people to choose between being British and being Scots? I know that Murdo and Michael will be embarrassed to have made such an error and will be rushing corrections out to every journalist they know. Especially since the GRO is liaising with its counterparts elsewhere to create a harmony of questions. If my good friends had taken the time to read the Wales and England equivalent publication as I have done, they might have spotted this paragraph:
In 2003 ONS published a Guide to the Collection and Classification of Ethnic Group Data recommending that wherever possible a national identity question should be asked as a companion to the ethnic group question.

Which may have led them to ask why the ONS has framed the question similarly to the Scottish one but without any reference to our Polish friends and lumping Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish, English and British all in the same check-box, giving 'Irish' its own check-box and changing the traveller category to "Gypsy or Irish Traveller", and not giving people the chance to say that they feel that they have a combination.

If I were having to fill in that form, whatever my nationality, I would feel my gorge rising ...

“I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before.”

Mind how thou goest!

1 comment:

Stuart Winton said...

Some fair points, but the 2001 nationality section provides 'Scottish' and 'Other British' as alternatives, so couldn't the latter be construed as including both Scottish/British AND English/British AND British per se, thus it doesn't really force people to choose between being Scottish and British?

As regards the proposals for 2011, surely it's inconsistent to exclude choosing Scottish AND British in the ethnicity section but allow that combination in the nationality section, if only because many people won't differentiate between nationality and ethnicity?