JOHN Swinney has been reported to the UK Statistics Authority amid claims he used out-of-date figures to insist that new measures were reducing the spread of Omicron across Scotland.
Scottish Labour deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, has reported the Deputy First Minister, who is also the Scottish Government’s Covid Recovery Secretary, to the UK Statistics Authority – accusing Mr Swinney of “deliberate spin”.
During his appearance on BBC Good Morning Scotland on Tuesday, Mr Swinney claimed the ONS data, which covered the period before extra rules were introduced, showed that the restrictions were having an impact.
He said: “The Office of National Statistics infections study which came out last week demonstrated that, while one in 40 individuals in Scotland are likely to have Covid-19 just now, one in 25 are likely to have it in England.
“That to me is the strongest evidence that the measures which have been taken in Scotland are protecting the population from Covid-19, but crucially also protecting our National Health Service from a greater scale of burden.”
The figures he quoted covered the week before the festive period, although they were the most up-to-date numbers published by the ONS at the time.
The ONS only published statistics for the week ending December 31 yesterday, after Mr Swinney had made his remarks.
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) January 5, 2022
In her letter to the UK Statistics Authority, Ms Baillie said: “I am deeply concerned to hear John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery, 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.
“The Deputy First Minister cited a Covid-19 Infection Survey, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on 31 December 2021, in making this erroneous claim. The data corresponded to the week ending 23 December 2021 when restrictions were not in place and the rules in Scotland and England were largely the same.
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) December 31, 2021
“In reality, the latest infection survey from ONS, to the week ending 31 December 2021, shows that 1 in 20 Scots have contracted Covid-19. These statistics contrast sharply with the narrative presented by Mr Swinney on BBC Radio Scotland – Good Morning Scotland on Tuesday morning.
“The correct use of statistics and data is vital to encourage public confidence, rather than the deliberate spin deployed by the Deputy First Minister.”
Nicola Sturgeon was pressed over Mr Swinney’s use of the data during her virtual Covid-19 update to Holyrood yesterday.
In her statement to MSPs, Ms Sturgeon highlighted the latest ONS statistics that were published yesterday afternoon.
She said: “The results in the most recent ONS survey, which was published just a few minutes ago, suggest that, in the week to December 31, the proportion had risen to one in 20.
“The proportion of people with Covid is likely to be even higher than that now—a few days later—and I anticipate that we will see continued growth in the level of infection as work and school resume after the holiday period.”
Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross, suggested Mr Swinney “claimed that virus rates are lower in Scotland than they are in England because of the actions that have been taken by the Scottish National Party”.
He added: “John Swinney was, however, using data from before the introduction of the SNP’s restrictions. The most recent data shows the opposite of what he claimed.
“Tackling the virus is not a competition, but John Swinney has tried to make it one. Why is the Cabinet Secretary who is responsible for Covid recovery using misleading data to make petty political points, instead of giving people the accurate information that they need?”
The First Minister said she agreed “it is not a competition”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “At times, Scotland has had lower levels of infection, and at other times, we have had higher levels. Right now, the levels of infection are lower here than they are in England, and are perhaps slightly lower than they are in Wales but not much lower than in Northern Ireland. That is, however, likely to change.
“The Deputy First Minister used the most up to date Office for National Statistics data. In my statement, I cited data that I understand have been updated, while I have been speaking, by data that are a week more up to date.
“There will always be a lag in data, but data will still show that our one in 20 rate, although it is very high, is certainly still lower than the rate in England.”
Ms Baillie has warned that public trust in the Scottish Government’s actions “risks being eroded due to selective and erroneous use of statistics by senior figures such as Mr Swinney”.
She added: “The Scottish Government has a duty to present the people of Scotland with the facts as they are, not as the Government would wish them to be.
“Scottish Labour will continue to hold this Government to account to ensure that the people of Scotland get all the facts that they deserve.”