WHILE Theresa May was unwittingly preparing her crash and burn in Salzburg, there emerged from the depths of Whitehall a document which does much to explain what was wrong with a Brexit strategy that would prove so obnoxious to all the other European leaders.

This vicious, vindictive woman made a name as Home Secretary by her efforts to crack down on immigration. She showed no mercy for hard-working families who wanted merely to do the best by this country and themselves, nor for students who promised to go home once they had finished their studies, as nearly all those who got in have indeed done. Still she failed every single year to meet her targets, and by a mile.

Her anti-immigrant obsession has continued from the Home Office into No 10 Downing Street, souring everything else she has put her hand to there. Just as free movement for workers is built into the structure of the EU, as one of the “four freedoms” that define the single market, so her institutional xenophobia, the “hostile environment”, has been embedded into the machinery of the UK Government. Never shall the twain meet, not in Salzburg and nowhere else either.

One expression of the hostile atmosphere is the little-known Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). It is “a non-departmental public body associated with the British Home Office”, whatever that may mean – a typical piece of obfuscating official gobbledegook. In translation, what it actually signifies is a catspaw of the Home Office, which can all the same disavow any sensitive findings by the tame professors it appoints to serve.

The present members of the MAC are typical: six academics headed by Professor Alan Manning of the London School of Economics (plus a civil servant as the Government’s enforcer). Not a single one of these eggheads lives further away from Whitehall than York. They all have cushy billets at English universities, so that voices from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not even going to be heard in their powwows. The Home Office as a rule has no Scottish functions, because our own government carries out what it does for England. An exception is made in the case of immigration, this being reckoned a matter for the whole UK.

All the same the committee does identify differences in Scotland’s migrant experience, and the effect they have had on our attitudes and objectives – though only in order to deny that these would ever justify any deviations from the harsh central policy. It’s a fine piece of Unionism in action.

The committee produced its latest report just before the Prime Minister jetted off to her alpine nightmare. This refers to two earlier documents related to its remit. One came from the Scottish Government, which in January published the paper Scotland’s Population Needs and Migration Policy, laying out its view that immigration is necessary for our economic future. Since our requirements are distinct, it argued there was “an overwhelming case for Scotland to have the power to tailor its own migration policy”.

In July the Scottish Affairs Committee of the House of Commons (which has a non-SNP majority) issued a document called Immigration And Scotland. One important section was devoted to the visa cap, in other words the monthly limit the UK Government sets on how many visas it is going to issue to migrants. By definition they will all be from outside the EU, and the record shows that the visas tend to go to the highest-paid applicants. The problem the committee stressed was that the system then operates too much to the benefit of the south-east of England, simply because the best money is to be earned there. As a result Scotland, with 8.4% of the

UK population, receives only 3.8% of the migrants who arrive by this route, mainly well-qualified professional people. Far from the bureaucratic action in London, Scottish sponsors struggle to cope with the complexity and expense of such recruitment.

Manning’s MAC does nod towards the existence of these two sound and cogent reports, but it does so only to reject their arguments out of hand. While “lower migration might lead to population decline, this problem is not something that starts at the Scottish border,” he replies, and “some Northern English regions have similar prospects”.

Yes, but Scotland also has something these regions do not have, a democratically elected government willing and able to tackle the problem, wanting only the tools for the job. We also have a native population ready to welcome migrants, as many of those other places do not. So Scotland could probably set about solving its own problem of population decline and the crisis this threatens for the future, of not having enough of a workforce to pay for the pensioners dependent on its taxes. But the Scottish Government first needs the right powers. The MAC says, however, that this is out of the question, even in these times of legislative devolution. As I said, a fine piece of Unionism in action.

The MAC urges us to look elsewhere for solutions: “Migration is much less effective at dealing with a rising old-age dependency ratio than increases in the pension age.” In other words, Scots will just have to work longer – in an age of digitisation which seems bound to shrink the number of jobs. Since Scots also die younger (though that, of course, is our own fault), it would then certainly become easier to meet the overall costs of the population’s retirement.

What’s more, “immigration may not be an effective strategy for sustaining remote communities unless the reasons for locals leaving are addressed”. In Scotland we have as a matter of fact been addressing these problems for quite a while now, and have had some success too – the Highlands now house more people than at any time since the early 19th century. But the pattern is patchy. Inverness and Skye boom while on the western side of Lewis the population threatens to collapse. At the same time there is no end of New Age types from home and abroad whose idea of paradise is a remote glen where, to their hearts’ content, they can cut peats or muck byres in a howling gale. Why not let them come? They are a potential answer to depopulation.

Surely these are in any case questions that beg answers on a local scale, rather than by long-distance pontification from 600 or 700 miles away. For a start, any necessary powers should be wielded from Edinburgh rather than from London. While in its polite way the Commons committee did suggest the MAC should recruit at least one Scottish member, so that it can benefit from a little local knowledge, even this has so far fallen on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, the laying down of law from on high continues: “Overall, we were not of the view that Scotland’s economic situation is sufficiently different from that of the rest of the UK to justify a very different migration policy,” concludes the MAC. Unionism in action again – we must conform to the economic interests of the south-east of England, of which hostility to immigration is just one.

The Scotland of the future will, we may hope, have more humane aims and less hidebound ways of fulfilling them.