Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank


Think tank responds to inquiry on Census Bill to ask for better data on multilingualism

Reform Scotland, the independent think tank, has called for the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill to be used to create a better question on which languages are spoken in Scotland.

Reform Scotland has written to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Bill, following its report Breaking the Languages Barrier, released last month.

In its letter, the think tank noted that the current question on languages (“Do you use a language other than English at home?”) may distort the real situation if respondents believe that by answering ‘yes’, they are implying that they do not also speak English.

Furthermore, there is only scope to specify a single other language, whereas in our multicultural society more may be spoken. There is also a danger that the way the question is phrased conveys the assumption that speaking a language other than English is a problem rather than a benefit.

Instead, Reform Scotland has suggested that the question should be changed to:

  • “What languages do you regularly use?”

Commenting, Reform Scotland Research Director Alison Payne said:

“The Scottish Government has set the welcome goal of all children learning two additional languages by the end of primary school.  To achieve this goal it makes sense for us to embrace Scotland’s growing number of multilingual citizens, for example our Polish, Arabic, Urdu and Gaelic communities. This presents a wonderful opportunity not only for pupils to learn and engage with native speakers and learn from their peers, but actually use the language skills they learn. Having more citizens speaking a wider range of languages should be an opportunity for all to learn more and help bring us together.

“However, we do not know precisely how extensively other languages are spoken in Scottish households, because sufficient data does not exist to tell us this due to the flawed nature of the census question.

“We can fix this relatively simply, by asking a better question, and indeed a question which does not suggest speaking a language other than English is a bad thing. A minor change will give us more accurate and better data which can help inform government strategy to encourage more people to speak more languages.”



  1. Reform Scotland’s letter can be read via the link below.
  2. Reform Scotland is an independent, non-party think tank that aims to set out a better way to deliver increased economic prosperity and more effective public services based on the traditional Scottish principles of limited government, diversity and personal responsibility. Further information is available
  3. Media: Message Matters (Andy Maciver, [email protected], 07855 261 244)


Letter to CTEEA Committee