WILLIE Rennie has been left red-faced after his erroneous claim that Nicola Sturgeon “twisted” Covid infection figures has been dismissed by the UK statistics watchdog.

The Scottish LibDem MSP has now been urged to apologies for his “ham-fisted bid to twist data” in what the First Minister described as “an attempt to undermine confidence in the Scottish Government's decisions” to tackle the Omicron wave of the pandemic.

Last week, Mr Rennie dobbed in Ms Sturgeon to the UK Statistics Authority, pointing to the First Minister’s use of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, claiming he was “concerned that these statistics may have been seriously twisted”.

Last week, the First Minister told MSPs that “the Office for National Statistics figures this week show that infection levels in England are over 20 per cent higher than those in Scotland”.

The ONS figures showed that in both Scotland and England, it was estimated that 1 in 20 people have the virus.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon reported to statistics watchdog over claims she 'twisted' Covid figures

The analysis also stated that the estimated average percentage of the population that had Covid-19 in Scotland was 4.49% compared to 5.47% in England – with the percentage increase of the two figures coming in at just under 22% – backing up the First Minister’s claim.

But Mr Rennie wrote to Sir David Norgrove to complain about the First Minister's use of statistics.

Sir David has now responded to Mr Rennie, vindicating the First Minister and dismissing his claim against her – stressing that “the data does suggest that the rate of infection is lower in Scotland than in England”.

He added: “The First Minister was comparing these two proportions and correctly stated that the figure for England was more than 20% 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.”

Speaking at her weekly Covid-19 update, the First Minister said Mr Rennie had “issued a furious press release” following her comments last week, but added that “oddly, Mr Rennie has not press released the reply”.

HeraldScotland: First Minister Nicola SturgeonFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon

She added: “Sir David Norgrove, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority says in his reply says I ‘correctly stated that the figure for England was more than 20% higher than the figure for Scotland’.

“To me, what matters is that Scotland is doing better now than we were doing before Christmas and better now than we might have been doing had we not taken action to stem transmission. That is what is important.

“How we are faring relative to England or anywhere else is not, in my view, the key comparison.

“Given that others have sought to draw that comparison, inaccurately, in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Scottish Government's decisions, I hope all members will not accept the conclusion of the chair of the UK Statistics Authority that the data I cited was indeed accurate.”

Ms Sturgeon said that “a cursory glance” at the data “would have shown that it was accurate”, adding that the complaint was “uncalled for”.

She added: “Opposition members, for reasons that I really can’t fathom because I really don’t understand the politics of this other than pure political opportunism, have tried to suggest somehow and to say that the data suggests that restrictions in Scotland made no difference.”

SNP MSP Siobhian Brown has called on Mr Rennie to “apologise to the chamber for his ham-fisted bid to twist data”.

She added: “Willie Rennie’s letter to the Office of National Statistics has backfired spectacularly.

“We should now hear no more of the nonsense claim from the opposition that citing statistics showing Scotland performing better than other parts of the UK is somehow wrong.

“The only thing wrong here is the abject attitude of the opposition parties who cannot bear to see Scotland succeed on anything, even in tackling Covid. That is an insult to the millions of people who have sacrificed to get Covid under control.

“Sir David Norgrove’s letter clearly confirms the First Minister was 100% accurate in what she said.

“Willie Rennie has completely embarrassed himself and should apologise to the people of Scotland for providing an unnecessary distraction during a time when people were making sacrifices to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.”

Mr Rennie said: “Nicola Sturgeon responds to the complaint about her selective use of statistics by selectively quoting the letter from the statistics authority.

“The authority advised both percent and percentage points should be quoted but 1% doesn’t sound as impressive as 20% so she chose not to."