Trans questions on the Scottish census must not be at women’s expense Joan McAlpine in The Times 13.06.19

The original article is here.

Data does not normally provoke demonstrations, but it did yesterday when the Scottish parliament debated a bill on the 2021 census. The legislation has been controversial because the inclusion of a non-binary “third sex” question was initially mooted.

The trans allies were not protesting against the legislation being passed but the conversations the Census Bill has enabled. They held placards saying “no debate”. This was ironic.

The Scottish parliament had just given cross-party support to a motion by the Labour MSP Jenny Marra which said that conversations about “women’s sex-based rights” were necessary and condemned violence and threats against women who wished to have them.

When the dry, one-page Census Bill was put before the culture, tourism, Europe and external affairs committee last year nobody imagined it would cause this much fuss. No MSP opposed asking voluntary questions about trans status and sexuality. But several were troubled by policy documents which said that the Scottish government considered gender identity and sex to be the same thing. Since when?

We learnt that the government decided in 2011 that the census’s sex question should be answered according to self-identification, even if the respondent had no gender recognition certificate. This advice was hidden on the website and was never subject to democratic scrutiny. That’s shocking when you think that for almost 200 years sex was uncomplicated, binary and biological. For most people it still is.

It also emerged that National Records of Scotland were testing a 2021 sex question with a “third option” in addition to male and female to account for non-binary people, even though they could express their identity through the new trans question.

This is opposed by the committee and experts including the Office for National Statistics and Susan McVie, who sits on the Board for Official Statistics. They argue that measuring sex accurately is vital for service planning and keeping an eye on discrimination, especially for women who suffer the brunt of it.

Policy capture is at the root of this fankle, as with many issues around gender identity. Officials only take advice from LGBT stakeholders. They never consider that women might have something to say about legislation which erases them as a biological sex class. In this case they didn’t consult statisticians either.

That’s just not good enough. The census is the gold standard of social measurement. It must be accurate and rooted in material reality.

Joan McAlpine is an SNP MSP for South Scotland