Nicola Sturgeon has been referred to the UK statistics watchdog over concerns figures on the prevalence of the virus between Scotland and England may have been “seriously twisted”.
The First Minister told the Scottish Parliament on Thursday that Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures this week showed infection levels in England are “over 20% higher than those in Scotland”.
However, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie has written to the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, over the use of the stat.
His party pointed to ONS figures stating that one in 20 people were infected in both Scotland and England in the week ending January 15.
The figures also indicated the estimated average percentage of the population that had Covid-19 in Scotland was 4.49% compared to 5.47% – a difference of less than 1%.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said that the figures used by the First Minister were accurate, and that Willie Rennie had made a mistake.
In his letter, former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Rennie insisted that there must not be bias, spin or manipulation in the use of public health data.
“The public have a right to always expect the Scottish Government’s interpretation of data to be robust,” he wrote.
“This is even more important when that data is being used to justify and substantiate restrictions on their liberty and freedoms under the use of emergency powers.
“Parliament has granted powers to ministers that would not be countenanced in any other circumstances so scrutiny of how they are used is essential.
“Public confidence in these statistics must not be put at risk. There must be no bias, spin or manipulation. However, I am concerned that these statistics may have been seriously twisted.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister was entirely correct.
“The most recent ONS Covid-19 infection data showed that the level of infection in England is proportionately over 20% higher than in Scotland – the percentage increase is 21.8% meaning that if the rate in Scotland had matched that in England there would have been more than 50,000 additional infections in Scotland.”