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by Margaret Taylor
21 January 2022
First Minister reported to statistics watchdog over 'seriously twisted' Covid data

First Minister reported to statistics watchdog over 'seriously twisted' Covid data

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been reported to the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) over “seriously twisted” Covid claims two weeks after her deputy John Swinney was also referred to the body.

Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said he believes Sturgeon was incorrect when she said during yesterday’s First Minister’s Questions that Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures “this week show that infection levels in England are over 20 per cent higher than those in Scotland”.

Rennie said the figures show that in the week ending 15 January both Scotland and England had an infection rate of one person per 20 while there was just a one percentage point difference in infection rates taken as a percentage of population.

In a letter, Rennie asked UKSA chair Sir David Norgrove to “advise on whether the ONS statistics should have been portrayed in this way and whether the First Minister should continue to report statistics in this manner”.

“The public have a right to always expect the Scottish Government’s interpretation of data to be robust. This is even more important when that data is being used to justify and substantiate restrictions on their liberty and freedoms under the use of emergency powers,” he wrote.

“Parliament has granted powers to ministers that would not be countenanced in any other circumstances so scrutiny of how they are used is essential.

“Public confidence in these statistics must not be put at risk. There must be no bias, spin or manipulation. However, I am concerned that these statistics may have been seriously twisted.”

Earlier this month Labour’s Jackie Baillie asked the UKSA to investigate a similar claim made by Swinney on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio show, alleging that the statistics he cited “contrast sharply with the narrative presented”.

On the 4 January show Swinney said that Covid rates were lower in Scotland than in England due to tighter restrictions and pointed to ONS figures that, he said, showed one in 40 Scots had Covid at that point compared to one in 25 in England.

Baillie asked Norgrove to investigate after it emerged that those figures related to the week ending Friday 23 December, which fell before restrictions on large gatherings, hospitality and indoor contact sports started in Scotland.

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