Most people in Scotland have no religion – 2022 Census

The results of the 2022 Scottish Census have just been published, and for the first time, when asked about religion most people ticked ‘None’. 51.1% ticked the option, up from 36.7% in 2011. Humanists UK has welcomed the figures, which reflects the wider trend across the UK. The latest Census in England showed for the first time only a minority ticking ‘Christian’, while in Wales more people ticked ‘No religion’ than ‘Christian’.

Returning to the Scottish figures, the share ticking ‘Church of Scotland’ in 2022 was 20.4%, more than half as low as the 42.4% that ticked that figure in 2001. ‘Roman Catholic’ was ticked by 13.3%, ‘Other Christian’ by 5.1%, and ‘Muslim’ by 2.2%. For every age group under 60, over 60% ticked ‘None’.

Biased question wording

The question used in Scotland is ‘What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?’ This question is leading, presuming that the respondent has a religion. Similar issues exist with the England and Wales Census, which asks even more leadingly, ‘What is your religion?’ The consequence is that the figures recorded by the Census inflate the size of the religious population. Research on the England and Wales question has shown that it leads to people who do not believe in, practice, or consider themselves to belong to a religion choosing a religious box. They do so because they were christened, because their parents are/were Christian, or because they went to a Christian school. The Office of National Statistics acknowledges this itself. The better-phrased British Social Attitudes Survey, by contrast, found in 2020 that 53% of British adults belong to no religion, with only 37% Christians.

Humanists UK’s sister charity, Humanist Society Scotland, provides services in Scotland and works on all matters devolved to Scotland. In the run-up to the Census, it encouraged non-religious people to tick ‘None’.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘With Scotland’s Census results, we now have the full picture. The growth of the non-religious population is the biggest demographic change in the UK today.

‘And yet the UK remains a very religious state, including in its institutions that every country is subjected to. We still have daily prayers in the UK Parliament, with those who attend more able to get seats and participate in subsequent debates. We still have bishops in the House of Lords. We still have compulsory school prayers. And we still have schools that divide children based on religion.

‘The contrast between the religious state and the non-religious population is only growing more stark. It is time politicians wake up to this and act to rectify the everyday discrimination the non-religious population faces.’