FOR the first time ever, a clear majority of East Lothian residents have said they have no religion, new census data has revealed.

The first set of data from the 2022 census in Scotland, including population figures, was released last year, and on Tuesday data was published on topics including religion, ethnicity, national identity and language.

In East Lothian – whose population increased from 99,717 in 2011 to 112,284 in 2022 – the number of people who stated they had no religion soared from 40.9 per cent (40,740) at the last census in 2011 to 57.5 per cent (64,576) – considerably higher than the Scottish average and the eighth highest percentage of all the local authority areas in Scotland.

Scotland as a whole is now a secular nation for the first time as it has a majority of people who say they have no religion – 51.1 per cent compared to 36.7 per cent in 2011, with 'no religion' the most common response to the religion question in the census in 30 of the 32 local authority areas, including 21 with an overall majority of people with no religion – continuing a trend from previous censuses of a dramatic drop in the percentage of people who hold a religion.

In fact, across Scotland, the number of adherents of the Church of Scotland has halved in just two decades, from 42.4 per cent in 2001 to 20.4 per cent at the 2022 census.

Number of Christians falls sharply

In East Lothian, as in Scotland as a whole, the Church of Scotland remains the largest religious group but its number of adherents in the county has plummeted since 2011, from 36,354 (36.5 per cent) to 24,758 (22.0 per cent) – slightly higher than the Scottish average of 20.36 per cent.

The number of Roman Catholics in East Lothian has decreased too, albeit at a slower rate, from 9,704 (9.7 per cent) to 9,088 (8.1 per cent). The Scottish average is now 13.3 per cent.

The number of Christians as a whole in East Lothian fell from more than half of the population in 2011 – 51,326 (51.5 per cent) – to just over a third in 2022 – 39,276 (35.0 per cent).

By contrast, the number of people identifying as Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or Jewish increased for all five religions, the biggest rise being the number of Muslims in East Lothian – 848 (0.8 per cent) in 2022 compared to 508 (0.5 per cent) in 2011, though this remains far below the Scottish average of 2.2 per cent.

Age group statistics

The huge increase in the number of people saying they had no religion was borne out across every age group, both in East Lothian and across Scotland.

The sharpest rise of all came in the number of those over 65 in East Lothian who said they had no religion, the percentage more than doubling from 15.0 per cent (2,657) in 2011 to 31.3 per cent (7,405) in 2022, although this age group remains the only one where having no religion is in the minority.

The age group with the lowest religious adherence was those aged 25-34, where almost two-thirds of East Lothian residents (74.1 per cent) said they had no religion, closely followed by those aged 0-15 (72.2 per cent), 16-24 (70.0 per cent), 35-49 (65.2 per cent) and 50-64 (50.7 per cent).

For every age group, the percentage of East Lothian residents who said they had no religion was well above the Scottish average.

Men were more likely than women to say they had no religion (60.5 per cent to 54.8 per cent), though both saw increases of close to 20 per cent from the previous census.

Ethnicity and national identity

Meanwhile, the census also revealed that the percentage of people in East Lothian whose ethnicity was white had slightly decreased, from 98.3 per cent in 2011 to 96.9 per cent in 2022.

The largest non-white demographic in East Lothian was people who described themselves as Asian, Scottish Asian or British Asian, which rose above 1,000 and constituted 1.2 per cent of the population (up from 1.0 per cent in 2011).

Likewise, the percentage of people living in East Lothian who were born in Scotland fell slightly from 83.7 per cent to 80.1 per cent, while those born elsewhere in the UK added another 12.5 per cent.

As for national identity, there was a dramatic collapse in the number of people in East Lothian who identified as both Scottish and British, which plunged from 18,851 (18.9 per cent) in 2011 to 9,930 (8.8 per cent) in 2022.

The number of those who thought of themselves as Scottish only is now nearly two-thirds of the population, after rising from 62.6 per cent (62,414) to 65.0 per cent (72,985), while the proportion of those who identified as British only nearly doubled from 8.6 per cent (8,593) to 15.4 per cent (17,237).

Gaelic and Scots skills

Also included in the latest census data were figures for proficiency in Gaelic and Scots.

The number of East Lothian residents aged three and over with some Gaelic skills nearly doubled from 728 (0.8 per cent) in 2011 to 1,397 (1.3 per cent), though this was well below the national average of 2.5 per cent.

Meanwhile, some form of ability in Scots was held by 49,480 East Lothian residents aged three and over (45.4 per cent), up from 37,232 (38.7 per cent). This was marginally below the Scottish average of 46.2 per cent.

More census data will be released in the coming months.