NICOLA Sturgeon and the Scottish Tory leader clashed in Holyrood this afternoon over a report from the UK’s chief statistician on figures the First Minister cited about Covid-19 prevalence in England.

This morning the director general of the Office of Statistics Regulation said the First Minister’s claim that the prevalence of coronavirus is five times higher in England than in Scotland came from sources which were “difficult to identify”.

Ed Humpherson wrote to the Scottish Government’s chief statistician to say he did not think the sources used allowed for a “quantified and uncaveated comparison of the kind that was made”.

The Scottish Government had used Scottish modelling from its own experts to determine the prevalence of coronavirus north of the Border. This figure was then compared against unpublished modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which used a UK prevalence figure as proxy for England.

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They then used other data from the Office for National Statistics which was based on a different time period to the Scottish data.

Jackson Carlaw used the news to attack the Scottish Government – but failed to mention there are a number of other figures showing England’s coronavirus rate is higher than Scotland’s.

The First Minister told him this, saying other data “backs up the fact that that is a significantly lower prevalence and incidence of the virus in Scotland right now”.

She went on: “And that is because of the elimination strategy that we're pursuing and the very cautious approach to coming out of lockdown. I am trying, as I said, as we speak, I'm trying to persuade the UK Government to join us in that express objective of eliminating the virus and I hope we will get common ground on that.”

Carlaw used the letter from Humpherson to suggest the First Minister had been dishonest about the difference between coronavirus levels north and south of the Border.

He told the Chamber: “Nicola Sturgeon used this prevalence figure to suggest her policy was working better compared to elsewhere in the UK. Here's what the UK statistics authority say: We do not think that the sources above allow for a quantified and uncaveated comparison of the kind that was made.

“Will the First Minister give us a straight admission? She made a comparison which she may have chosen to believe that was not true.”

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The First Minister said she accepted one of the sources for the figure had not been published and accepted the view of the statistics regulator. But she said she did “deeply regret” that rather than focusing on the “substance” of Covid-19 issues, Carlaw had made an “attempt to somehow pretend that Scotland hasn’t made the progress that we have self-evidently have made in the fight of this virus”. She called his line of questioning “bizarre”.

Sturgeon told Carlaw “we should all be so deeply grateful and relieved” to see Covid-19 in Scotland driven to low levels. There have been no Covid-19 deaths of people who have received positive tests for the virus in the last 14 days.

She said while none of us should get “complacent” over the pandemic, the figures showing differences between the situation in England and Scotland were readily available from the UK Government’s own coronavirus dashboard.

She went on: “I don't know whether Jackson Carlaw is really saying that he doesn't himself think that there is a significantly lower prevalence of the virus in Scotland right now than elsewhere. You can see it in the daily case numbers that are reported as well. So I may have used a statistic that wasn't published and you know the statistics regulator rightly properly has made his views known on that and I respect that.

“But for goodness sake, there are plenty other published measures that lead to the same conclusion. And why would anybody want to deny that instead of saying we're really glad that Scotland is now in the stronger position, and I make no apology Presiding Officer, for having taken the decisions that have led us to this position with all the sacrifices that people have made, and I will still take the decisions, designed to get this country as safely as I possibly can, through this crisis, whatever politics Jackson Carlaw might want to play.”

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But Carlaw continued to focus on the statistics row in his response. He told Sturgeon she knew the statistic was “wrong”, and said the Scottish public had been “misled”. The Scottish Tory leader asked the First Minister to apologise.

Sturgeon told the Chamber she was “feeling quite sorry for Jackson Carlaw”.

She explained: “I’ve been a politician for 30 years, and I still can't imagine getting so bound up in bitter partisan politics that I can't bring myself to welcome the fact that we have made such progress against a deadly virus. How blinded must you be to find yourself in that position and my tolerance for this kind of politics is lower than it has ever been before.

“The conclusion I drew about the relative prevalence was not wrong, the figures I accept were not published, and that is not down to me, it's down to decisions of the UK Government.

“We have a position right now where over the course of July, we have had nine registered deaths, none for the last two weeks at all, and the corresponding figure in England is around 2000 so even if you think the figure I use previously was wrong, you're entitled to think that, the figures now demonstrate the relative position and why would anybody find pleasure in arguing that that is not the case?”

During today’s Holyrood meeting the First Minister gave an update on the current coronavirus restrictions in Scotland.

She confirmed that pupils will be able to return to school full time from August 18 at the latest, and said shielding would be paused from August 1.