View site in Scots

Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

2011 Census

censusQ16_weeIn 1994 the Aberdeen University Scots Leid Quorum was formed to campaign for a question about Scots language ability in the Scottish Census. By 1996 the General Register Office for Scotland had been persuaded to discuss including a question on Scots in the 2001 census. However, in 1997 the Scottish office rejected that. In 2000 MSPs debated a motion to include a question on Scots in the 2001 census. The motion was defeated. In 2001 a campaign group 'Forgotten Folk' was formed to campaign for a question on Scots in the census. In the same year the UK Government recognised Scots as a regional language under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

In 2006 the General Register Office for Scotland finally began testing towards including a question on Scots language ability in the 2011 census. In 2009 the Scottish Government's Scots Language Audit concluded that a question on Scots was essential to assist with developing policy to support Scots-speakers and the Scots Language Centre and the General Register Office for Scotland began working together to resolve issues around a question on Scots in the census. Later that year MSPs voted unanimously for the Census Order which included a question on Scots language ability.

In 2010 the Aye Can website was launched to help the public understand how to approach the census question on Scots language ability. In March 2011 the census of Scotland asked for the first time in its history whether people resident in Scotland could speak, read, write or understand Scots.

censusThe census results showed that just over one and a half million respondents had self identified as being able to speak Scots. That was 30% of the Scottish population.

In answer to question 16 of the census a total of 1,541,693 people has identified themselves as able to speak Scots. A further question, 18, asked for 'Language other than English used at home'. Although Scots was not a predetermined option, 55,817 people proactively entered Scots under 'other'.

The census result for the number of Scots-speakers confirmed the research carried out in 1996 by the NRS’s predecessor organisation, the GROS (General Register Office for Scotland). The 1996 survey had estimated the number of Scots speakers at 1.5 million.

The local authority areas with the highest proportions of Scots-speakers were Aberdeenshire and Shetland Islands (49 per cent each), Moray (45 per cent) and Orkney Islands (41 per cent). The lowest proportions reported were in Eilean Siar (7 per cent), City of Edinburgh (21 per cent), Highland and Argyll & Bute (22 per cent each).

SLC Analysis of Census 2011 for Scots

Cenus analysis by Dr Caroline Macafee

Scots in the Census: Validity and Reliability by Dr Caroline Macafee

On release of the census results for the question on ability in Scots by the National Records Office Scotland in September 2013, Michael Hance, Director of the Scots Language Centre, said, "These figures are great news but after centuries of neglect it is time for action to be taken to safeguard the language for the future. The data gathered during the 2011 census gives us for the first time ever information about the number of people who speak Scots, where they live and which demographic groups they fall into. This means that we can begin to plan how to support communities of Scots speakers and to encourage those communities to value their language and pass it on to future generations."


The Cenus Page may be found at
The Census questionaire may be found at

The Census results may be found at
'The Missing', an article on the Census results by Michael Hance at