Nicola Sturgeon reported to statistics watchdog over claims she 'seriously twisted' Covid data

It is the second time in recent weeks that a senior Scottish Government figure has been reported to the UK Statistics Authority.

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Nicola Sturgeon has been reported to the statistics watchdog amid claims she “seriously twisted” the use of coronavirus figures.

During First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon referenced Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates to say England’s infection rate is “over 20% higher than those in Scotland”.

The ONS figures show 5.47% of people in England are infected compared to 4.49% in Scotland.

The English figure can be calculated to be 21.83% higher than Scotland, but the Scottish Liberal Democrats have taken umbrage at the claim because there is just a 0.98 percentage points difference between the two numbers.

In a letter to UK Statistics Authority chairman Sir David Norgrove, Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie wrote: “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.”

However a Scottish Government spokesman insisted: “The First Minister was entirely correct.

“The most recent ONS Covid-19 infection data showed that the level of infection in England is proportionately over 20% higher than in Scotland – the percentage increase is 21.8%, meaning that if the rate in Scotland had matched that in England there would have been more than 50,000 additional infections in Scotland.”

It is the second time in recent weeks that a senior Government figure has been reported to the watchdog, with Labour previously accusing Deputy First Minister John Swinney of misrepresenting the impact of coronavirus restrictions in Scotland.

Mr Swinney, who is also the Scottish Government’s Covid Recovery Secretary, suggested Covid rates in Scotland were lower than in England because of extra measures introduced north of the border.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on January 4, he suggested ONS figures showing one in 40 Scots were infected compared to one in 25 in England were “the strongest evidence that the measures taken in Scotland are protecting the population from Covid”.

But the figures cited by Mr Swinney were from before the Scottish Government imposed additional restrictions.

In November, the Scottish Government was rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority for comments made by Mr Swinney about the use of Test and Protect data.

In response to a letter from Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie, Sir David said the Scottish Government “should be clearer about the limitations in comparing figures for Scotland (published by Public Health Scotland) with the World Health Organisation target for contact tracing”.

The organisation’s director-general for regulation, Ed Humpherson, then wrote to the Government advising how it should present the figures more accurately.