Scottish Minister Reported to Watchdog for ‘Erroneous’ Use of COVID-19 Data

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
January 6, 2022 Updated: January 6, 2022

Scotland’s deputy first minister has been reported to the UK Statistics Authority after he was accused of misrepresenting data to justify the region’s COVID-19 restrictions, which are significantly stricter than in neighbouring England.

John Swinney, who also serves as the Scottish government’s COVID Recovery Secretary, suggested infection rates in Scotland were lower than in England because of extra measures introduced by the Scottish National Party (SNP) administration.

The SNP government imposed a ban on large-scale events including football matches on Boxing Day in order to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19. On the following day, all nightclubs were closed and pubs and restaurants were limited to table service only.

Talking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Jan. 4, Swinney cited Office for National Statistics (ONS) data published on Dec. 31, 2021, which showed one in 25 people in England had COVID-19 compared to one in 40 people in Scotland.

He said the ONS survey had “demonstrated” a “very important distinction” between Scotland and England. He called it “the strongest evidence” that the Scottish government’s measures were “protecting” the public and the National Health Service (NHS), though the ONS data only covered the week ending on Dec. 23, before the additional restrictions were brought in.

Opposition parties accused Swinney of using outdated information to justify restrictions that came into force after the data was collected, and the Scottish Labour party said it had reported the minister to the UK Statistics Authority.

In the letter to the watchdog’s chairman Sir David Norgrove, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie wrote: “Public trust in the actions of the Scottish government is of paramount importance, but it risks being eroded due to selective and erroneous use of statistics by senior figures such as Mr. Swinney.

“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,” she wrote.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon defended her deputy, arguing he had used the most up-to-date data available at the time.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament on Jan. 5, Sturgeon also said that restrictions on large gatherings and hospitality businesses will remain until at least Jan. 17.

She said the situation had not abated enough to scrap the latest restrictions and Scots are being asked to continue to limit their social contacts.

As a result of the stricter restrictions in Scotland, thousands of Scots reportedly travelled across the border to celebrate the New Year in England, where restrictions are considerably more relaxed and nightclubs remain open.

PA Media contributed to this report.