IMMIGRATION is a thorny subject. Say anything that isn’t fully supportive of free movement of people and it won’t be long until you are labelled racist. It’s such an emotive subject that it’s one of the few issues that can turn almost any election or referendum.

A key theme running through referendums within EU member states is that if a side becomes labelled as overly pro-immigration it can be defeated. The Brexit vote demonstrated that immigration trumps economic common sense. This is because the economic machinations of a nation are confusing but fear of strangers is clear. Such fear has been hard-wired into the human psyche since early man lived in tribes and competed for hunting territory.

The economic evidence is clear: immigrants boost our economy and pay more into the UK Treasury than they take out. We also have labour requirements that we can’t fill without immigrants. These range in skill levels from fruit pickers to brain surgeons and lot in-between. It’s therefore understandable that many enlightened policymakers simply state that all immigration is good. But, it’s not and everyone knows it. It might be a tiny percentage but some immigration has a negative impact and not to accept that can harm the overall perception of immigration.

I am 100% behind the freedom of movement of EU citizens. I know it provides a significant boost to our economy overall. Yet I also accept that there are places where policy intervention is needed to address the downsides.

I can personally bear witness to a person buying a flat for £50,000, in an area of Glasgow which was subsequently used to house a large influx of migrants. Thirty years later the flat was only worth £40,000.

Every second flat in the block was owned by the Housing Association and (against the rules) up to a dozen people lived in each, mainly people with no work. The shared bin area in the tenement was unusable because the immigrant family on the top floor threw half a dozen soiled nappies out of the window every day.

The only people willing to buy the flat were the Housing Association and other multiple occupancy landlords. The owner’s chance of a comfortable retirement was severely damaged. How do you sell people with those type of experiences on the benefits of immigration?

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Those who, like me, support freedom of movement have to admit that there are good and bad sides to immigration, even though that will be seen as politically incorrect.

Policymakers ignoring the downside miss the opportunity to provide the context that such negative aspects represent a tiny percentage of experiences compared to the overall massive benefits of immigration.

If they fail to actively intervene where immigration goes wrong, then the handful of negative experiences can be weaponised by xenophobes and right-wing newspaper editors.

The undeniable economic truth about EU immigration is that Scotland needs it. EU immigrants on average pay £2300 more tax and National Insurance contributions (NIC) every year than UK-born people do, a massive 45% more.

EU immigrants over their lifetimes pay in £78,000 more than they take out in public services and benefits compared to the average UK citizen’s net lifetime contribution of zero.

A recent study by Oxford Economics found the net benefit to the Treasury from UK immigration in 2016 was expected to be £26.9bn, with £19.3bn coming from EU migrants, the rest from migrants from the rest of the world.

The Tory government’s response to this is to suggest that after Brexit we will have a merit-based immigration system (that’s a good idea) where the suggestion is to allow only those earning over £30,000 a year to enter (that’s a terrible idea).

The UK Government’s approach is fundamentally stupid. I know hotel and restaurant owners in Oban and Aviemore who have said they would have to close without EU immigrants that earn less than £30,000 as they can’t fill the vacancies with Scottish or UK-born workers.

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Several farmers have told me that fruit would rot in Perthshire fields and they would face bankruptcy if EU migration fell by another 10%. Three separate care home operators have told me that between 50-60% of their staff are EU nationals and that they could not provide the required level of care if they had to recruit only UK-born staff (which is what Jeremy Corbyn mistakenly hopes will happen after Brexit).

There are just not enough UK-born people willing to do the jobs. Why don’t organisations raise salaries and attract more Scottish workers? Because councils set (and lock in) the pay rates and these aren’t job types Scottish people want, even at higher rates of pay.

The Scottish Government’s modelling of the impact of the suggested UK policy estimates a decrease of almost £6.8bn a year in Scottish GDP by 2040 and a fall of £2bn in government revenue over the same period. So where is the money coming from to raise care home and NHS salaries if that’s just one of a dozen ways Brexit will damage Scotland’s economy and cut government revenues?

Approximately 65% of people in Scotland believe that immigration should be devolved. This would allow for bespoke policies, not based on what people would earn but on the need for those people to the Scottish economy.

Sure, we need coders, vets and cardiovascular surgeons who will earn over £30,000 but we also need lower skilled and seasonal workers. We also need to encourage younger people with families to move here so that we have enough working-age people to afford decent pensions.

The UK Government says we can’t have different immigration policies across the UK because people would get in through Scotland and then move to other parts of the UK. However, it’s perfectly plausible to offer NIC numbers that limit people to working in one geographical area.

The long and the short of it is that the Scottish Government is right on immigration and the UK Government is unbelievably wrong.

However, in order to sell the immigration message the Scottish Government needs to get real about the marginal, but still tangible, downsides and offer a twin-pronged approach to boosting good immigration whilst intervening to make sure that no-one will be damaged by bad immigration.

That will defuse the lies and myths the Unionist press will propagate about separate immigration policies in the unlikely case of the powers being devolved, or more likely during a new campaign for an independent Scotland.