With only days to go before every household was due to complete and return the form, the government has had to extend the deadline by one month, as too few people have taken part to make it meaningful. As of last week, only 74 per cent of Scots had filled in the survey, compared to 97 per cent for the rest of the UK.
The Census, which usually happens every ten years, is vital for the government to collect information about the population so that it can plan properly for the future.
In the past, there has never been a problem getting people to complete it. Every household received a paper form, filled it in and posted it off. Teams of enumerators would visit those households who had forgotten, or didn’t want to take part, and by the end of the process, the overwhelming majority of people had done their civic duty. Not this time.
There are a number of reasons why this may have happened. Everyone received a letter telling them about the Census and advising them to complete it online. But there was an option to request a paper copy.
My own experience suggests that is one of the areas where things started to go wrong. When my form had not arrived three weeks after I had asked for one, I called the helpline to be told that there had been “a problem” issuing them. Many others had the same experience.
The Scottish Government delayed the Census by a year, citing Covid as the reason, but England successfully carried out theirs last year. By opting out of the UK’s advertising campaign, it’s possible that public awareness of the survey was lower than it needed to be.
The government’s immediate priority must be to get Scotland’s Census returns to match those of England. Anything less will be an unprecedented failure. And then there must be an independent review to find out what went wrong.
Scotland has always run a separate Census since it was established in 1801, so there is nothing wrong with taking a different approach. What is unforgiveable is if the SNP government fails to complete this most basic of public administration tasks.