NICOLA Sturgeon’s paper on Scotland’s Place in Europe was quite a complex piece of work, still with the simple message that the best thing for us is to stay in the EU’s single market. Except for a lunatic fringe of the Leave campaign, nobody would really dispute that. More than 500 million people, 30 countries (three more than the actual member states): what’s not to like about the single market?

And of course the UK Government itself would like to stay in the single market, resolute though it is about marching out from the political organs of the EU and letting them stew in their own juice. We cannot be sure such a consensus covers every last member of Theresa May’s cabinet, let alone of the parliamentary Conservative party with its own lunatic fringe. But, at least in the immediate aftermath of the European referendum, the heavyweights were clear. The Brexit minister, David Davis, mused aloud about maintaining trading links, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson burbled away on the same theme – and this is the obvious preference of a Remainer at heart like Chancellor Philip Hammond.

European leaders appalled at Brexit could have given encouragement to this notion that some sort of pallid, ghostly British membership might continue in stunted form into the future. But no. To post-mortem musings from across the English Channel, the unanimous retort came that the existing single market is sacrosanct, resting as it does on four freedoms, of trade in goods and services, of movement in capital and labour. If the UK Government thought these freedoms divisible, its former friends and partners insisted they are not. May and her merry men in London, after a couple of months of bone-headed refusal to believe what they were hearing from the other capitals, finally saw the light. Now (in contrast to Scottish ministers) they talk little about the single market.

The stumbling block is migration. That is what the principle of freedom of movement for labour means. It is beyond me why English people (mainly) get so worked up, in the matter of jobs they would not do themselves, about all those Polish cleaners and Bulgarian fruit-pickers. They forget that the system works both ways, and that hundreds of thousands of British citizens pursue their careers elsewhere in the EU. I did it myself a few years ago, and taking up employment in Germany was a doddle compared, for example, to the daunting green card system in the US. Even so, there are enough stay-at-home voters the Tories want to keep sweet, and out of the clutches of UKIP, to make them implacable on the point of cutting immigration.

It would be interesting to know what new proposals the Conservatives might have up their sleeves to make this policy more of a success than it has been since they took office in 2010. May, then Home Secretary, wanted to restrict the annual total of immigrants to 100,000. Not in a single year has her target been met, and last year it was exceeded three times over. Why is the government unable to control the borders? It is not as if these are open, as in Germany. Everybody entering the UK has to pass through passport control at airports, ferry terminals or railway stations.

The basic reason immigration has swollen, and continues to swell, is that the driving force behind it is not political but economic. We see round the world today millions of people whose impulse to better themselves, and improve the lives of their families, drives them to seek their fortune far away from where they were born. It is to my mind a welcome impulse, which governments would do better to harness than to stifle. It is an impulse generations of Scots have obeyed, often to the profit and credit of their country. At all events, in today’s conditions the UK Government has completely failed to suppress it. Another unpleasant woman in the Home Office, Amber Rudd, had to back down after she alarmed British industry with threats to cut off the supply of workers it needs. Now her department is reduced to vicious persecution of individuals, like the Brain family of Dingwall or the Felber couple of Inverness.

The whole issue of immigration besides gives the lie to the claim that the four nations of the UK have only common interests to pursue in the Brexit negotiations. While England rejects immigrants, Scotland sees no choice but to encourage and welcome them. We have an underperforming economy, which above all needs policies to foster growth. We are good at technology, and probably have enough capital for our requirements. What we lack is labour. Our birthrate is falling, our population is ageing, and in future an ever smaller workforce will have to pay for an ever growing number of pensioners. Unless, that is, we can recruit more productive people to our society. In the last few years we have been successful in this, especially with immigrants from Europe, so that the threat of absolute decline in the population has been dispelled. But we still need to do more.

Where, then, is the common interest of Scotland and England in the matter of immigration, when Scotland wants and needs immigrants while England clamours to shut most of them out? In truth the interests of the two countries are diametrically opposed, and there can be no united view for the UK Government to adopt. So which interest is going to prevail as it works out its position on Brexit? I have no prizes for the answer. May has consistently taken the stance, and again in Parliament this week, that England’s preference defines Scotland’s interest.

But that means Nicola Sturgeon’s aim of keeping Scotland, at least, inside the European single market cannot be fulfilled. The problem of immigration alone means it will never happen. A single market, as every European leader affirms, must include the free movement of labour. A UK Government that tries to get round that will be in effect rejecting the result of the referendum on June 23, something May has vowed she will never do. In reality there is no chance of an exception for Scotland.

I don’t see how it can be otherwise in the UK that has evolved up to now in the twenty-first century, into a country with a government more English than it ever was in the twentieth century. Before 1997, the number of Scottish Conservatives at Westminster at least remained in double figures, but now there is just a single one. Altogether, of the 330 Tory MPs, 318 are from England, so by definition the other nations’ voices will be little heard in the ruling party. Even the will to listen to them has faded.

In principle I support Nicola Sturgeon’s effort to set out a distinct Scottish position on Brexit, but I am forced to the conclusion that it is doomed to failure. Even if the technical obstacles could be overcome there is not even the beginning of acceptance at Westminster for any distinct Scottish position.

Nicola has done her best, yet in practice it will leave her no alternative to a second Scottish referendum. Good – but I wish she would also get to work on our dismal economic performance, which will count more than Europe when we visit the polling booths next time.