ONE of the big stories of 2020 is likely to be the swarming of boat people into UK waters, perhaps with a tragic death toll among the hapless refugees. As usual, the Government in London will have no idea how to solve the problem, while it seeks with measly means to respond to the popular fury in Tory heartlands against the very idea of an even more multicultural Britain.

The basic trends are already there. Last Thursday, a record was set for a single day when 235 migrants were intercepted while trying to cross the Channel from France. Altogether, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency halted 17 vessels. So far this year, 3948 people have crossed in more than 300 boats.

I confess I had been unaware that the UK Government boasts a Minister for Immigration Compliance. Now he makes his presence felt: Chris Philp, MP for Croydon South, said he shared “the anger and frustration of the public at the appalling number of crossings …”, adding: “The crossings are totally unacceptable and unnecessary as France is a safe country.

“We work closely with France and I will be in Paris early next week to seek to agree stronger measures with them, including interceptions and returns. This situation simply cannot go on.”

The only option was to make the route “completely unviable” to deter people from attempting it.

Philp is, of course, only echoing the fiery utterances of his senior, the Home Secretary Priti Patel, the daughter of Ugandan-Indian refugees who has made herself a militant on the subject of immigration. She agreed that the number of Channel crossings was “unacceptably high”. “I know that when the British people say they want to take back control of our borders – this is exactly what they mean,” she added. Instead, “genuine refugees” should be entitled to claim asylum in other “safe” EU countries.

All this is consistent with the record of a ruling party which, since it took office in 2010, has pandered to the popular prejudice against immigration without ever doing anything serious to stem it, and certainly not by meeting its own targets.

Now it at least has the excuse that Brexit is turning 450 million Europeans from people with every right to settle in the UK into people with no such right. But those migrants whose relative rights have as a result improved – which means all migrants from the rest of the world – are, with their rainbow colours and alien traditions, perhaps even more unwelcome to the true Brits of Boris Johnson’s Toryism.

Meanwhile, we irritate the former European partners through whose territory the migrants must pass till they reach the last ditch at the English Channel. The French have already asked for, and got, £100 million to enhance security on their side. This week they are going to demand another £30m from Philp. They say it’s basically our problem, not theirs.

In between them and us, the UK can deploy the Royal Navy, but the admirals on the whole prefer to tackle strategic tasks. For the latest, they are mainly concerned to get hold of the supersonic aircraft that will make their two carriers, at present sailing distant oceans with empty decks, capable of offensive action. They gave a dusty answer when the UK Government asked them how they might like to join in the hunt for migrants’ dinghies.

READ MORE: 'This is perverse voyeurism': BBC under fire for channel crossing report

It is true the French could help, too, and in fact did pick up 23 boat people last Thursday before they had reached our territorial waters. That shows the problem, when the preferred destination of most refugees is not in fact France. The ports on the European side of La Manche are only where the migrants muster while they search desperately for a way to cover the remaining 21 miles of water to their British destination. Over here, they will not need identity cards, so can vanish into illicit migrant networks and earn money in the hidden interstices of a globalised economy.

MORE pathetic, but perhaps more invisible, is the strong and steadily growing contingent of unaccompanied children. Some, seeing no prospects at all for themselves in their native Iraq or Afghanistan, set out for the West under their own steam in adolescence.

Others have lost contact, by accident or foul play, with the adults who first set out with them. Kent County Council has taken 400 of the waifs into its care this year. Again, there will be more of them before 2021.

The whole sorry business got turned last weekend into a Silly Season Story, when fulminations from the tabloid press formed a background chorus to the indignant sputterings of politicians as these pretended to the new Tory voters that they take anti-immigrant protests seriously.

Together, they gave us this August’s big story as seen from London. The big story is an immigration crisis, and the need for the Government to do something about it.

It also shows what a mystery Scotland has become to many people in the London establishment. On this side of the Border, that crisis is really not the story at all, and our government is saying something quite different.

The Scottish economy has by contrast a great and growing need of immigrants. The basic reason is a steady decline in the native-born population. In 2018 there were 58,503 deaths in Scotland, the highest figure since 1999. There were only 51,308 births, the lowest annual total since 2002. The native-born population fell by 7000, in other words.

But during a period when differences in European labour markets have lessened, partly through new technology and partly through deregulation, it became much easier for citizens of one member country to go and find work in another. Not only the Polish plumbers and the Bulgarian barmen benefit from this. It has probably been of special advantage to Scots too, simply because it is almost part of our heritage that we should spend a period of our working lives somewhere else. Not everybody comes home again, but those who do help to improve the level of skills in the whole economy.

This national experience encourages us to be more welcoming and understanding of the footloose foreigners who decide Scotland is where they want to spend a period of their working lives, too. In case of any doubts, we should ask ourselves how our tourist industry or, a few years ago, the North Sea oil industry could get on without them.

As a general rule, high immigration is not a tale of woe for either side, for those who come or for the host community. It is rather the sign of success for our economy. We should encourage and help foreigners to join us. On behalf of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is right to reject the intolerant attitudes to immigration advocated by Boris Johnson and Priti Patel.