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First Minister reported to UK Statistics Authority over covid claims

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Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie has reported the First Minister to the UK Statistics Authority amid concern that official statistics on the prevalence of the virus between Scotland and England “may have been seriously twisted”.

It comes after the First Minister yesterday claimed to Parliament that: “The Office for National Statistics figures this week show that infection levels in England are over 20 per cent higher than those in Scotland”.

However, ONS figures state that 1 in 20 people were infected in both Scotland and England in the week ending 15 January. They also state that the estimated average percentage of the population that had COVID-19 in Scotland was 4.49% compared to 5.47% – a difference of less than 1%.

In a letter to the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, Willie Rennie wrote:

I write to report to you the use of statistics by the First Minister at the Scottish Parliament this week and to seek your guidance on their validity on this occasion and in future.

At yesterday’s First Minister’s Questions, the First Minister stated: “The Office for National Statistics figures this week show that infection levels in England are over 20 per cent higher than those in Scotland”.

However, ONS figures state that 1 in 20 people were infected in both Scotland and England in the week ending 15 January. They also state that the estimated average percentage of the population that had COVID-19 in Scotland was 4.49% compared to 5.47% – a difference of less than 1%.

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.

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.

I would be grateful if you could 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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