For more than 120 years, the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) has used the census to ask the people of Scotland about their Gaelic ability – and 2011 is no exception.
Sir Stair Agnew, the Registrar General of the time, oversaw the introduction of the first Gaelic language question in the 1881 Census. The census found that there were 231,594 Gaelic speakers in Scotland which equated to 6.2 per cent of the population. But the question was added to the census at the last minute, by overprinting the census forms. The evidence from the census strengthened the demand for more time to be allocated to the teaching of Gaelic in Scottish schools, and a grant became available shortly afterwards for the purpose.
The last census, in 2001, showed that over 92,000 people in Scotland (just under two per cent of the population) had some Gaelic language ability. Almost half of these people lived in the Eilean Siar, Highland and Argyll & Bute Council areas.
In the next census, the first to be held since the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, I am delighted that the people of Scotland will have the option to fill in their household questionnaire online in Gaelic or English. This marks another first for the Gaelic language.
With just seven months to go, we are now in the process of starting to recruit and train around 7,000 field staff and arranging to print and distribute around two million questionnaires. It is going to be a very busy time ahead with work on the ground and behind the scenes to ensure that everyone can be included on the questionnaire.