NICOLA Sturgeon has rubbished opposition claims that she twisted Covid-19 statistics to show that Scotland had a lower prevalence of the virus than in England.

The First Minister told MSPs last week that ONS figures showed that infection levels in England were 20% higher than in Scotland.

Former Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie subsequently reported the First Minister to the UK Statistics Authority.

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But, in a twist on the figures row, the FM noted during her Covid-19 update to the Scottish Parliament that Rennie had not published the response from the chair of the authority - which supported the FM’s use of the stats.

Despite calls for him to apologise, Rennie later said on Twitter that the FM was "selective" in her use of statistics. 

Speaking in the chamber at the end of her statement, the First Minister said that she wanted to address opposition claims that the extra protective measures introduced to the variant were “unnecessary”.

She added that they also claimed Scotland’s more cautious approach - including cancelling large Hogmanay events - achieved “no more than England’s less protective approach”.

The FM continued: “In response, I told Parliament last week that – and I quote - ‘The ONS figures this week show that infection levels in England are over 20 per cent higher than those in Scotland’.

“Willie Rennie issued a furious press release on the back of this, saying that I had ‘twisted’ the data. He also reported me to the impartial Chair of the UK Statistics Authority.

“I am pleased to say that he has now written back to Mr Rennie.

“Oddly, as far as I am aware, Mr Rennie has not press released the reply.

“Sir David Norgrove, the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority says in his reply that I - again, I’m quoting - ‘correctly stated that the figure for England was more than 20 per cent higher than the figure for Scotland’.”

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The First Minister said that Norgrove went “further than that” in his response to the report.

She added: “While acknowledging that there are other equally accurate ways to cite the statistics he concludes as follows: ‘the data does suggest that the rate of infection is lower in Scotland than in England’.”

The First Minister continued: “To me what matters is that Scotland is doing better now than we were before Christmas, and better than we might have been had we not taken action to stem transmission.

“How we are faring relative to England is not, in my view, the key comparison.

“But given that others have sought to draw that comparison - inaccurately - in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Scottish Government’s decisions, I hope all members will now accept the conclusion of the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority that the data I cited was accurate.”

The National:

Rennie was left red-faced after the UK Statistics Authority backed the First Minister

SNP MSP Siobhian Brown later asked the FM if she agreed that Rennie should apologise to the chamber for his "hand fisted bid to twist data" and to the people of Scotland for "failing to acknowledge their sacrifices".

Sturgeon said that Willie's report to the statistics authority was "uncalled for" and a cursory glance would have backed up the accuracy of the figures.

She continued: "I don't believe that the comparison between Scotland and England is the one that we should be focusing on.

"I think the comparison we should be focusing on is the one between how Scotland is doing now compared to how we were doing at the start of the Omicron wave and how we might have been doing now had we not taken the sensible proportionate steps.

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"But opposition members for reasons that I really can't fathom because I don't really understand the politics of this other than pure political opportunism, have tried to suggest somehow, and to see that the data suggests that the restrictions Scotland made no difference."

The FM said it was "good" that there was confirmation the data was accurate in response to the claims.

She continued: "That the actions the government has taken more importantly the actions that the public has taken, has got Scotland into a much stronger position than we would otherwise have been and I think if we can all just put party politics aside for a moment in the midst of a global pandemic, we might all actually find that that is something to warmly welcome."

However, Rennie did not offer an apology after the FM's statement.

Instead he took to social media, and said: "Nicola responds to the complaint about her selective use of statistics by selectively quoting the letter from the statistics authority!

"The authority advised both percent and percentage points should be quoted but 1% doesn’t sound as impressive as 20% so she chose not to."

You can read the full letter sent to Rennie from the UK Statistics Authority here