Peter Whitehouse, the director for statistical services at the National Records of Scotland (NRS), said the 2022 Census was the “only statistical tool” to work out the size of the trans community in Scotland.
He made the point as organisers of Scotland’s census said they had “no concerns” that a legal challenge over one of the questions will prevent or delay the population survey from taking place.
For the first time, the Census – a count of people in Scotland that happens every ten years – will ask about a person’s trans status as well as their sexual orientation. Both questions are voluntary.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh is considering a bid by campaign group Fair Play for Women over the guidance given to people when answering questions on their sex*.
The guidance reads: “If you are transgender, the answer you give can be different from what is on your birth certificate. You do not need a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).”
The case was heard earlier this month, with no decision yet made.
The English High Court ordered similar guidance produced by the Office for National Statistics be taken down days before Census Day for England and Wales in March last year.
Addressing concerns around having enough time to change the guidance if the group is successful, Mr Whitehouse said he had no concerns around putting a required Census in place.
He said: “Our absolute focus is to encourage participation and we do that by testing questions, understanding their relevance, understanding their accessibility and really helping everyone to understand the importance of the Census.
“Being counted matters to how services are delivered and developed.
"There is a legal responsibility to answer the Census and our focus is to enable and encourage the importance of the Census.”
NRS made clear it would “of course respond to the rulings of the court”.
The census website is due to go live on February 28, ahead of Census Day on March 20.
Talking about the inclusion of the trans status question, Mr Whitehouse said: “That is a hugely important question that is very well understood and very well-regarded as being an important question that helps us.
"The Census is the only statistical tool that is available which helps us to understand the size, location and nature of the trans community.”
In 2011, the Census response rate was 94 per cent of the population of Scotland.
"We are hopeful that we will achieve something similar,” said Mr Whitehouse. "We have some targets around the census and our expectation is 70 per cent response online.”
Established in 1801 in Scotland, the census has taken place every ten years, excluding in 1941 because of World War Two, and in 2021 due to the Covid pandemic.
s Questions in the next Census are designed to provide a snapshot overview of Scotland’s population on March, 20, 2022.
The answers given to Census questions will help shape Scotland's future public services . All of the Census results published will have personal information removed.
*This article has been updated to make clear the question at the centre of the legal challenge specifically asks about sex rather than ‘gender identity’