Sturgeon's right-hand man under pressure over anti-English 'spin' – data watchdog alerted

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Covid cases have spiked across the UK due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, with Nicola Sturgeon having imposed restrictions on Scots. However while Scotland has recorded lower cases than England, experts have said the country is in the “worst-case scenario” with the variant.

John Swinney, also SNP deputy first minister, appeared on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland on Thursday to tout Scotland’s success in curbing Covid.

He suggested on the programme Covid rates in Scotland were lower than in England because of extra measures introduced north of the border.

Mr Swinney cited Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, which showed one in 40 Scots were infected compared to one in 25 in England.

He then added the figures were “the strongest evidence that the measures taken in Scotland are protecting the population from Covid”.

It emerged after the broadcast the figures Mr Swinney was referencing were from before the Scottish Government implemented restrictions.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie has since reported Mr Swinney to the UK Statistics Authority, writing she was “deeply concerned” to hear the statistics allegedly being misrepresented.

In the letter to the watchdog’s chairman Sir David Norgrove, she said: “I am deeply concerned to hear John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery, wrongly use statistics from before the festive period to suggest that restrictions across Scotland, introduced by the Scottish Government, resulted in only 1 in 40 Scots contracting COVID-19, as compared to 1 in 25 in England.

“The Deputy First Minister cited a COVID-19 Infection Survey, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on 31 December 2021, in making this erroneous claim.

“The data corresponded to the week ending 23 December 2021 when restrictions were not in place and the rules in Scotland and England were largely the same. In reality, the latest infection survey from ONS, to the week ending 31 December 2021, shows that 1 in 20 Scots have contracted COVID-19.

“These statistics contrast sharply with the narrative presented by Mr Swinney on BBC Radio Scotland – Good Morning Scotland on Tuesday morning.”

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Ms Baillie then said of her decision to report Mr Swinney: “Public trust in the actions of the Scottish Government is of paramount importance, but it risks being eroded due to selective and erroneous use of statistics by senior figures such as Mr Swinney.

“The Scottish Government has a duty to present the people of Scotland with the facts as they are, not as the Government would wish them to be.

“Scottish Labour will continue to hold this Government to account to ensure that the people of Scotland get all the facts that they deserve.”

Ms Sturgeon said Mr Swinney had used the most up-to-date data available at the time, and added: “I cited in my statement today data that as I understand it that has been published while I’ve been speaking, that is a week more up to date – there will always be a lag in it – that I think will still show that one in 20, though very, very high, is still lower certainly than in England.”

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It comes after Humza Yousaf, Scottish health secretary, said the country’s Covid case rates are in line with the worst-case scenario.

Mr Yousaf confirmed infections are at the highest level predicted in an evidence paper published in early December.

He warned BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme the peak was yet to come and health chiefs were already making “exceptionally difficult” decisions on prioritising care.

He added: “Certainly we are heading into the peak and expect that in the next few weeks.

“If you remember the paper we published in early December, we are clearly into the worst-case scenario in terms of levels of infection.”

The UK recorded 179,756 new Covid cases and 231 deaths on January 6.

Scotland recorded 11,360 cases and 18 deaths on the same day.

It comes as ONS data suggested around 1.3 million people in the UK have “long Covid”.

Of those, 892,000 first caught the virus at least 12 weeks ago and 506,000 at least a year ago.



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