ARE Scots less bothered about immigration than folk south of the Border?

A new poll suggests there’s no difference.

YouGov’s survey found 64 per cent of Scots want immigration cut or stopped altogether, compared to 70 per cent across the UK. According to the Jamaican-born academic Sir Geoff Palmer of Heriot-Watt University, this shows the perception of more tolerant Scots is a “myth”.

Immigration became a massive issue in February 2014, when an Ipsos Mori poll ranked it alongside the economy as the most important issue for the British people. But when asked for the most important single issue, only 12 per cent of Scots put race relations/immigration in the top spot, compared with 22 per cent of respondents in England. Perhaps that’s because Scotland has a smaller ethnic population. But concerns about immigration were also surprisingly low in multicultural London (13 per cent) compared with the south-east’s 26 per cent.

The pollsters found some other anomalies.

Those surveyed had vastly overestimated the scale of immigration – believing 31 per cent of the population are born abroad when the official estimate was 13 per cent; 70 per cent said immigration was a big problem facing the country, but only 20 per cent had encountered immigration-related problems themselves. Similarly, 60 per cent thought immigration harmed the labour market but only 31 per cent thought they personally would benefit from an immigration cap.

In other words, poll results on immigration are not at all straightforward.

Those 2014 findings came after months of hysterical press reports about impending floods of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria and equally hysterical government and BBC reaction to the rising influence of Nigel Farage’s anti-immigration Ukip.

There’s a pattern here.

When the immigration debate is conducted at foghorn volume and in a generalised way, alarm bells ring south of the Border and thanks to UK-wide media the whole of Britain becomes gripped by the irrational fear of foreigners and outsiders. But when immigration gets up close and personal, the whole British public is a good deal more tolerant. The Scots even more so.

A day after its “Scots are similar” banner headline, BBC Scotland revealed a slightly different finding – that Scots were more positive about the role of new arrivals in the economy but still wanted existing citizens put first.

Scots accept the need for high-skilled migrants to fill gaps. But at the same time Scots, like any other folk, are bound to wonder why those gaps exist.

There is a mass of reasons – and none reflect well on the way the British economy is run. Britain’s insecure, zero-hours, low-pay economy helps send 300,000 people out every year in search of a better life. Last month a survey by University College London found that one in 10 of Britain’s top professionals had emigrated to be replaced by immigrants with lower skill levels. According to Dr John Jerrim, of the UCL Institute of Education, “one in 10 highly skilled British citizens now lives overseas”. Scottish historians can testify that this pattern – failing to reward skilled workers – is as old as the British state itself.

Unaffordable childcare means fewer women are available to the British workforce, even though many are qualified and trained. Unaffordable housing and public transport create other barriers for the homegrown unemployed. The most common obstacles to GP recruitment in rural areas, for example, are difficulties finding out-of-hours cover, shortage of local housing and an absence of good, stimulating job opportunities for spouses and partners. Add a sluggish birth-rate, a sicker population and earlier mortality – all hallmarks of economic pessimism and long-term disempowerment – and you have the perfect storm: a society that must somehow import workers but deeply resents the reasons for having to do so. And, without tolerance, a sense of proportion and a political drive to transform society, this can very easily result in generalised animosity towards immigrants whose labour keeps Scotland and Britain functioning.

Concern about immigration can easily mask concern that Scotland is a place where homegrown talent cannot thrive. Do worries like this lie behind the latest immigration statistics? We’ll never know unless pollsters ask more than a few blunt questions.

There is a final factor. Petty party politics. The Conservatives promised to reduce net migration before the next election to swing key votes. But the UK Government has little control over most immigration, because it’s from Europe. So they’ve promised a destabilising in-out EU referendum and meanwhile have cracked down on 20,000 British citizens with non-European family/spouses whose passports are now stamped with “no recourse to public funds”.

Beyond the rhetoric, this is what the immigration debate has become. Unfair, emotionally charged, and full of displacement – avoiding all the big questions about our broken society and any of the progressive solutions.