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SNP censured for flawed Covid comparison

The SNP government has been reprimanded by the UK Statistics Authority for their repeated use of a flawed comparison regarding the prevalence of Covid in Scotland and England.

The First Minister has claimed, on at least seven occasions, that the prevalence of the Covid virus was five times higher in England than it was in Scotland.

As a result of a query from Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary, the UK statistics regulator has issued a highly critical letter to the Scottish Government for their use of these ‘uncaveated’ statistics.

In his response to Mr Briggs, the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove wrote, “The sources you were provided with do not allow for a meaningful comparison to be made…. We do not think that these sources allow for a quantified and uncaveated comparison of the kind being made here.”

In a further letter to the Scottish Government, Ed Humpherson, the Director General for Regulation detailed a number of criticisms. He said, “When unpublished figures are quoted in the public domain, we expect that this information is shared with the media and the public in a way that promotes transparency and clarity. There are lessons to be learnt in this case, with different data sources being quoted to the media and to us. We expect that any figures used are appropriately sourced, explained and available in the public domain. 

“Furthermore, it is important to recognise that a comparison of COVID-19 prevalence rates is not straightforward. If it is to be undertaken, the results and the uncertainties should be communicated transparently. We do not think that the sources above allow for a quantified and uncaveated comparison of the kind that was made.”

Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary said;

“This verdict could not be more clear - the First Minister repeatedly gave a misleading picture of the state of the ‎outbreak across the UK.

“This flawed analysis was the basis of major policy decisions and had serious repercussions for our tourism industry and our society.

“The First Minister’s use of these dodgy statistics even led to repeated warnings that the border could be closed which, in turn, triggered ugly protests that have damaged Scotland's reputation as a welcoming country.

“It is hard not to conclude that the First Minister pushed this unreliable comparison, with no context, for her own political purposes.

“The First Minister must apologise for misleading the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish public.”






Times the First Minister has used this flawed comparison –

‘we assess that the prevalence of the virus in Scotland, right now, is five times lower than it is in England’. (Scottish Government, Daily Briefing, 3 July 2020, link).

Exchange at Daily Briefing: 7 July

Sturgeon: ‘We have in Scotland, as of now, and I’m not complacent about this, what we judge to be an infection level that is five times lower than elsewhere in the UK and England in particular’.

Musson: ‘First Minister can I just double check on something you’ve said there? You’ve talked about the prevalence again being five times lower in Scotland than England. Can you just, you;ve used that figure repeatedly. Can you just tell us where that figure is from?’

Sturgeon: ‘That’s the figure from modelling. And we can certainly get more information on exactly how that is calculated. That is the modelling that we do that takes account of incidence of cases, prevalence and the other stats that we produce. But if you’re interesting want more of the explanation around that, we would be happy to get the statisticians provide that for you’. (Scottish Government, Daily Briefing, 7 July 2020, link).

Scottish Parliament: 9 July - ‘right now, the prevalence rate of the virus in Scotland is several times lower—five times lower, based on the most recent data that we have—than it is the rest of the UK’. (Scottish Parliament, 9 July 2020, link).

‘I would point again to the fact the prevalence of coronavirus in Scotland is now five times lower than it is elsewhere in the UK’. (Scottish Government, Daily Briefing, 41:41, 6 July 2020, link).

‘I come back to a central point. If the Conservatives’ proposition is that everything that the Scottish Government is doing is somehow not good enough, the question that they have to answer is this: how is it that prevalence of the virus in Scotland is five times lower than it is in England?’ (Official Report, Covid-19, 9 July 2020, link).

‘The member asked why it is happening in England and not here. Let me turn that question around and ask why the prevalence of the virus is five times lower in Scotland than it is in England’ (Official Report, Covid-19, 9 July 2020, link).

When asked by the Courier about the claim at her daily briefing: ‘I do stand by it. It may have changed by now – we have seen the prevalence continue to go down in Scotland – but I stand by the comments I made. In terms of where they come from, these are figures about prevalence. They are, I think, UK Government-derived figures. So perhaps the question is more appropriately directed to them.’ (Twitter, Scottish Government, 23 July 2020, 53m30s, link;  Aberdeen Evening Express, 23 July 2020, link).


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