Scottish Council of Jewish Communites
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities

 
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities

How many Jews in Scotland?
– well, it all depends!

 
29 September 2013

The figures from the March 2011 census that were at last published by National Records of Scotland (NRS) this week were an interesting mix for the Jewish Community of Scotland. The headline figure for the number of people in Scotland who said they are Jewish fell by 8.7% from 6448 in 2001 to 5887 in 2011. That’s probably a smaller reduction than many people expected, but it compares with other minority religions increasing by between 25% (Sikhs) and 150% (Hindus).

The pattern is interesting too: Glasgow and East Renfrewshire still constitute by far the largest community, but numbers are down by 20% from 4222 to 3396, while the number of Jewish people in the rest of Scotland has increased by 16%, from 2235 to 2591, with increases in Aberdeen and Fife of no less than 46% and 77% respectively! As a result the Greater Glasgow community now accounts for only 56% of the total, compared to 64% ten years ago.

It is, however, important to remember that the census can never accurately quantify the number of people with a particular characteristic; what is does is to count the number of people who respond that they have that characteristic. And some of those people may accidentally tick the wrong box, like the 55 people in 2001 who said they were brought up Jewish and are now Sikh; or want to make a political point, like some Europeans who give “black” as their ethnicity; or deliberately want to subvert the census, like the people who wrote in “Heavy Metal” as their religion; or have personal reasons for not answering, like the many older Jewish people who, are understandably apprehensive about acknowledging their religion to the state.

The wording of the religion question in the census may also have discouraged some people from ticking “Jewish”. In Scotland we were asked “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?”. In the run-up to the census, SCoJeC argued long and hard with the Registrar General for “What is your religion?”, which is how the question was asked in England and Wales. Our concern was that in most of Scotland there simply is no local Jewish community to “belong to”, so that even committed Jews would have to respond that they don’t “belong to” any “religious body”. However, as one respondent to the Being Jewish in Scotland project put it, “I am a community of one; SCoJeC is my community!”, and it is not inconceivable that Being Jewish in Scotland, and associated SCoJeC activities across rural Scotland, including, for example, the introduction of “Volunteer Ambassadors” (see Four Corners 37) has resulted in some Jewish people in rural areas feeling a greater sense of “belonging”. By contrast, it is possible that, in Glasgow in particular, where there are a variety of communal organisations to “belong to”, Jewish people who have chosen not to do so felt that they could not claim on the census form to “belong to” a Jewish “religious body”.

To provide evidence to help us interpret the figures, after the census SCoJeC asked people on our e-mail list and readers of Four Corners whether they had ticked “Jewish”. Exactly 1 in 3 of those who responded and could remember how they had answered said they had not identified themselves as Jewish. In order not to be intrusive, we didn’t ask why not, nor how they did answer the religion question, but that response provides empirical justification for estimating the true number of Jewish people in Scotland at just under 9000.

Other estimates are possible, based on a number of extrapolations. The religion question was voluntary, and 6.95% of respondents didn’t answer it; there is no reason to think that the distribution of their actual affiliation would differ significantly from those who did answer. If our concern about “belonging” is right then at least some of the 36.7% who are reported to have said they have no religion may just have meant that they have nothing to belong to. Furthermore, in 2001 the Scottish census included a second question about religion of upbringing, which added 29.7% to the total number of people reporting Jewish affiliation; this is supported by Canadian research that has shown that 27.6% more people think of themselves as ethnically Jewish than religiously.  Finally, analysis of the 2001 census by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) suggested that "the figure recorded was out by as much as 64 per cent" giving an upper estimate for the Jewish population of Scotland in 2001 of 10574; a similar underestimate in 2011 would give an upper bound of 9655.

The question of these potentially ‘missing’ people is not just theoretical, since experience shows that people brought up as Jewish, or who regard themselves as Jewish by ethnicity but not by religion, often request specifically Jewish welfare services even when they do not consider that they are religiously Jewish. In some ways it depends who is asking and why, but what we can say with certainty is that the census figures exclude those who, for whatever reason, could have but did not respond that they are Jewish, and thus provide only a reliable minimum estimate of the true number of Jewish people in Scotland. Our own research indicates that the true figure is significantly higher, almost certainly between 8600 and 8830.

The following table shows the detailed comparison of the 2011 figures with 2001 by Health Boards area since these are rather less artificial than local authority boundaries. The figures for local authorities can be found here.
 
2011
2001
   
 Health Board area
All People
Jewish
All People
Jewish
Change
Change %
 ALL SCOTLAND
5,295,403
5,887
5,062,011
6,448
–561
–8.70
 Argyll & Clyde
included in Glasgow
420,491
126
included in Glasgow
 Ayrshire & Arran
373,712
171
368,149
147
+24
+16.33
 Borders
113,870
55
106,764
32
+23
+71.88
 Dumfries & Galloway
151,324
51
147,765
59
–8
–13.56
 Fife
365,198
245
349,429
139
+106
+76.26
 Forth Valley
297,636
120
279,480
139
–19
–13.67
 Grampian
569,061
273
525,936
210
+63
+30.00
 Greater Glasgow
1,213,408
3,458
867,150
4,249
–791
–20.96
 Highland
320,298
135
208,914
83
+52
+62.65
 Lanarkshire
574,637
229
552,819
221
+8
+3.62
 Lothian
834,350
994
778,367
934
+60
+6.42
 Orkney
21,349
4
19,245
11
–7
–63.64
 Shetland
23,167
11
21,988
4
+7
+175.00
 Tayside
409,709
138
389,012
116
+22
+18.97
 Western Isles
27,684
3
26,502
7
–4
–57.14

The latest release of census figures revealed other interesting data too: the number of residents of Scotland who were born in Israel has increased by 20% from 334 to 400, and 186 people said their national identity is partly or wholly Israeli. Another 85 said that their national identity is wholly or partially Jewish, while 326 people speak Hebrew at home (the 60th most common foreign language!) – and 34 speak Yiddish.

It is too soon to make detailed statements about what the census tells us about the demographic composition of the Scottish Jewish community; NRS has still to release figures showing the correlation between religious affiliation and other characteristics such as age, gender, education, and employment. However this first release certainly provides us with food for thought, and challenges SCoJeC and other communal organisations to continue, and expand our programme of support and activities for Jewish people living beyond the central belt.

 

   
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