ANAS Sarwar has rejected calls for immigration to be devolved to Scotland, arguing the country must conform to UK-wide border policies.

The Scottish Labour leader was challenged on his stance by BBC Sunday Show host Martin Geissler who asked him whether he agreed with Keir Starmer’s argument that the Government must “cut the number of foreigners in the health service”.

Sarwar said he believed the UK must train “our own workforce” and argued hiring foreign workers was depriving other countries of healthcare professionals in some of the “poorest parts of the world”.

The SNP said his stance was “deeply disappointing” and said independence would deliver an immigration policy which would tackle the challenges posed by Scotland’s ageing population.

Official statisticians at the National Records of Scotland estimated last year that the country’s population would increase slightly to a peak of 5.48 million in 2028 before falling to 5.39m by 2045. Currently 5.47m people live in Scotland, a record high which was only possible because of immigration.

Sarwar said: “We need to upskill our own workforce and we need to think about how we take away healthcare workers from some of the most deprived countries in the world and make them work here, which makes their own health systems even weaker in some of the poorest parts of the world.”

When challenged on whether he would support the devolution of immigration to Scotland, Sarwar said he believed the UK and Scottish Governments could work together to create a “Scottish solution to a Scottish problem”.

“On immigration, I think it’s right for us to have a single border agency, I think it’s right for us to have a single immigration system,” said Sarwar.

“But we’ve seen before when two governments are willing to cooperate, you can find schemes that benefit us here in Scotland to meet our specific needs.

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“The fresh talent scheme was a perfect example of that. When Jack McConnell was first minister, he negotiated that scheme which gave us a Scottish solution to a Scottish problem, whilst maintaining a UK-wide immigration system and a UK-wide border agency.

“I think that’s a good model for us to look at for the future.”

The fresh talent initiative ran from 2005 to 2008 and saw the Home Office under Labour’s control allow foreign students at Scottish universities to stay on for two years after graduating to seek employment.

Emma Harper, the SNP MSP for South Scotland, said: “Scotland faces an urgent population challenge, distinct from the rest of the UK.

"This challenge is being exacerbated by a hostile Westminster migration system that does not account for Scotland’s specific needs and a hard Brexit that Scotland voted against, which brought an end to free movement.

"Scotland's ageing population is one of the biggest issues future generations will face, unless action is taken today.

"From our farms to our universities, immigration is a vital part of Scotland’s success and it is only going to be more important going forward in ensuring our businesses, especially in rural Scotland, have the skilled workers needed to sustainably grow our economy.

“It is deeply disappointing that Anas Sarwar is flatly rejecting the devolution of immigration powers to the Scottish Parliament.

"With both the Tories and Labour refusing to devolve the powers over migration that would enable us to take the actions needed here in Scotland, it's clear that only with independence can we address Scotland's urgent population challenges and protect our economy and public services."