LATE last week, LibDem MSP Willie Rennie reported the First Minister to the UK Statistics Authority over claims she "seriously twisted" Covid figures that showed Scotland had a lower prevalence of the virus than in England.

The point of contention raised by former LibDem leader Rennie  - who also sent out a furious press release about his claim - was around Nicola Sturgeon stating in Holyrood: "The ONS figures this week show that infection levels in England are over 20 per cent higher than those in Scotland."

The statement was made due to questions arising about the effectiveness of the Scottish Government's efforts to curb the spread of the Omicron Covid variant by implementing restrictions that have now been lifted.

Rennie said that he was "concerned" that the statistics had been "seriously twisted" to justify Covid measures being brought in.

The chair of the watchdog, Sir David Norgrove, has since responded to Rennie's request saying that Sturgeon "correctly stated that the figure for England was more than 20% higher than the figure for Scotland".

The First Minister raised this fact in Parliament during a Covid update where she announced changes to working from home rules, and noted that Rennie had not sent out a press release about the report that proves him wrong.


Dear Mr Rennie,

Thank you for your letter of 21 January about the First Minister’s use of statistics from the Coronavirus Infection Survey (CIS).

CIS estimated that in the week ending 15 January 2022, 5.47 per cent of people in England and 4.49 per cent of people in Scotland had Covid-19. The First Minister was comparing these two proportions and correctly stated that the figure for England was more than 20 per cent higher than the figure for Scotland. It would also be correct to say that the prevalence of Covid-19 was around one percentage point higher in England than in Scotland. Quantitative comparisons between the two estimates should take account of the precision with which they are available, but the data does suggest that the rate of infection is lower in Scotland than in England.

The distinction between percentages (parts per hundred) and percentage points (the simple difference between two percentages) can be made easier to understand by quoting the two numbers being compared. For clarity, when publishing results from CIS the Office for National Statistics gives the absolute number of people with Covid-19; the percentage of the population with Covid-19; and the number of people with Covid-19 as a ratio to the whole population (for example, “1 in 20 people”).

Yours sincerely,

Sir David Norgrove