Sturgeon's right-hand man reported to watchdog over 'deliberate spin' of Covid stats

7 January 2022, 10:48 | Updated: 7 January 2022, 10:54

Nicola Sturgeon’s second-in-command, John Swinney, has been reported to the UK’s statistics watchdog.
Nicola Sturgeon’s second-in-command, John Swinney, has been reported to the UK’s statistics watchdog. Picture: Alamy
Gina Davidson

By Gina Davidson

Nicola Sturgeon’s second-in-command, John Swinney, has been reported to the UK’s statistics watchdog, over claims he used incorrect figures to back up the Scottish Government’s Covid restrictions.

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Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie has written to the UK Statistics Authority over comments Mr Swinney made in a radio interview on January 4.

In the letter she states she is “deeply concerned” by the Deputy First Minister’s remarks which she says saw him “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".

Mr Swinney had said figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed restrictions brought in in Scotland were protecting the population, as infection rates were lower than in England.

However the study he cited - published on December 31 - was based on data to the week ending December 23, prior to when new restrictions on large gatherings and hospitality came into effect on December 26.

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In the interview on Tuesday he was asked if the Scottish Government was considering further measures, despite Boris Johnson suggesting none would be taken in England.

He said: “I think there's a really important distinction in the data in Scotland with the data in England.

“That's demonstrated by the ONS infection study, which came out last week which demonstrated that whilst one in 40 individuals in Scotland are likely to have Covid just now, one in 25 are likely to have it in England.

“That to me is the strongest evidence that the measures we have taken in Scotland are protecting the population from Covid, but crucially also protecting our National Health Service from a greater scale of burden than the very high scale of burden that it is currently wrestling with.”

However in her letter Ms Baillie writes: “In reality, the latest infection survey from ONS, to the week ending December 31 2021, shows that 1 in 20 Scots have contracted Covid-19.

“These statistics contrast sharply with the narrative presented by Mr Swinney.”

Ms Baillie said public trust in the actions of the government was of “paramount importance” and the Scottish Government has “a duty to present the facts as they are and not as they wish them to be".

“The correct use of statistics and data is vital to encourage public confidence, rather than the deliberate spin deployed by the Deputy First Minister.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson dismissed Labour’s claims as “totally unfounded”, saying Mr Swinney’s comments referred not to the fresh restrictions brought in on Boxing Day, but to those already in effect such as the mandatory wearing of face coverings.