Sturgeon reported to statistics authority over ‘twisted’ use of ONS Covid data

Objection follows similar complaint about deputy John Swinney 

Credit: Kenneth Halley/CC BY-SA 4.0

Scottish Government 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 (pictured above) was incorrect when she said during last week’s First Minister’s Questions that Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures “this week show that infection levels in England are over 20% 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 in 20, while there was just a one percentage point difference in infection rates taken as a proportion 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”.

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“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 claims made by Sturgeon’s deputy John Swinney on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio show, alleging that the statistics he cited “contrast sharply with the narrative presented”.

On 4 January 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 came before restrictions on large gatherings, hospitality and indoor contact sports started in Scotland.


Sam Trendall

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