CENSUS bosses denied taking “rearguard action” over questions on sex and gender as they were grilled by MSPs yesterday.

The row about sections on sex, sexuality and identity has been running for months as experts and advocacy groups debate the impact and changes to the 2021 census, which will include new efforts to chart the country’s transgender population.

Final decisions have yet to be made but some transgender rights groups have argued that Scots should be able to fill in the key survey – used to help plan and deliver vital services – on the grounds of self-identification, not legal or biological sex.

Calls were also made to include a non-binary option for those who identify as neither male or female.

But some women’s organisations said the new approach would confuse biological sex with gender identity and could harm services for women.

And it was argued that a multi-option section for sexuality – potentially including 21 categories such as androphilic and demisexual – would confuse results and reduce the usefulness of the data.

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Holyrood’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee slammed the approach taken by census bosses National Records Scotland (NRS) and said there were problems surround the meaning of gender identity, which has no legal definition and includes an “umbrella” of identities, including transsexual and genderqueer.

Yesterday, committee member and SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson revealed “frustration” from the cross-party panel with NRS over the continued confusion.

Gibson questioned why NRS was using the term “cisgender” instead of “man and woman” for those who are not transgender, saying he had only learned the term six months ago and calling it a “contested and politicised term that many people object to and many others are completely unfamiliar with”.

Highlighting objections to the planned changed from 80 academics who rely on census data, Gibson said a recent acceptance of a male-female sex question – instead of the three-option version NRS had proposed – was “almost like a rearguard action being fought by NRS” in light of criticism.

Gibson said: “It has seemed that from the start NRS has had its own agenda on this, regardless of what other people think.”

Pete Whitehouse, NRS director of statistical services, said the body was “trying to use language that is understood that is not seen to be in any way pejorative or demeaning or insulting”.

He went on: “I’m sorry if that is the way it has been perceived. That is not the way NRS has worked.”

Whitehouse agreed there will be a “quite enormous” amount of work needed to promote the census and explain the changes across society, saying: “We are still working through what we need to do.”