BOTH Scotland and England have immigration problems. But those problems are in many ways opposite to each other, even though the two countries belong to the same Union with identical laws on citizenship and migration. This is a bit too much sameness. It will push the two of them apart rather than draw them together.

A piquant point in the weekend’s newspapers was a story about the frustration in the mind of Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the failure of yet another prime policy of his, the control and preferably a net reduction of the number of immigrants to the UK.

That has been on the Tory agenda since David Cameron took office in 2010. But the party, while pandering to popular prejudice against immigration, has never done anything serious to stem it. While targets have been set, they are yet to be met. A dozen years later, they have had the opposite of the intended effect, and given us a net surplus of 2.5 million immigrants.

No difference followed when Cameron handed over to Theresa May, even though she was visibly more hostile, even cruel, to the footloose aliens. It made no difference either when she handed over to Boris, who vowed to stop pussy-footing around and at least make sure as many foreigners would be chucked out as let in. But he is a terrible man for his priorities, and seldom sets one before seeking an excuse to change it.

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In his old days as a libertarian, Boris never bothered much about popular prejudice against immigrants – something for the plebs rather than for Etonian classicists. It had its main outlet in the fulminations of the English tabloid press, taken as a matter of serious concern only by the more unsavoury sort of Tory. This oddball combination finally won seats at the 2019 General Election, those that used to languish behind Labour’s “red wall”. The trend lingered on into the summer of 2020, at least as the season’s big story in a world viewed from London. Here was an immigration crisis, and the need for the UK Government to do something about it.

Now the disgruntled Boris has ordered all relevant departments of state to carry out a complete review and see what is actually going wrong. In fact, he is said to think UK governments have found “no viable policies” at all. If we try to restrict immigrants to legal channels, they find new ways of their own. So far this year more than 24,000 have crossed our surrounding seas in small boats, nearly triple the number that arrived by this means last year.

Tory MPs warn the crisis risks becoming a big electoral burden. Nearly one-quarter of them think the numbers should be reduced somewhat, and the same proportion again think they should be reduced a lot.

Internationally, to close friends and allies this is another example of our faithless foreign policy since Brexit. It has caused diplomatic relations with France to nosedive. President Emmanuel Macron accuses the UK of swinging “between partnership and provocation” over the issue. And we accuse him of exploiting it as a “punishment” for our abandoning the EU.

Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, is a daughter of Ugandan-Indian refugees who has made herself a militant against those trying to follow her parents’ path today. She has signed an expensive deal with France for the UK to subsidise the gendarmes’ patrols of Channel beaches. The number of immigrants they have intercepted so far is 18,000, a figure reckoned to represent a mere 40% of all attempted crossings.

Patel agrees that the number of illegal movements remains 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.” Instead, “genuine refugees” should be entitled to claim asylum in other “safe” countries, such as Albania.

YET it will need more than brave talk to counter the latest reason for targets being missed, now that Brexit has turned 450 million Europeans from people with every right to settle in the UK into people with no such right.

Another sure sign of the question’s importance to Boris is that the devolved governments are not allowed anywhere near it. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have immigration too, though you would never think so from the level of consultation with them in Whitehall. Policy is determined purely in terms of English problems and English opinion. If anything, it shows what a mystery Scotland has become to many people in the London establishment.

This is a shame when migration has become a problem for both Scotland and England, though in opposite senses. North of the Border, we cannot get all the immigrants we might use in a country where the population is growing too old to fill all the possible job vacancies.

In 2019 there were 58,108 deaths in Scotland and 49,863 births, both figures broadly continuing the earlier trend of the 21st century. The native-born population fell by more than 8000, in other words.

Wider data show there were a total of 5.46m people living in Scotland, an increase on the previous year of 25,200. The main reason was that 30,200 more people moved to Scotland than left the country, arriving from both overseas and the rest of the UK. There was no natural growth, as deaths had outstripped births.

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Previously the natural increase or decrease had been the main influence on the level of the Scottish population. But most recently a new force has started to make a difference, one that seemed to show Scotland becoming more assimilated to the EU at the same time as being dragged out of it. 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 part of a lot of working traditions, local and national, that we spend a part of our careers somewhere else. Not everybody comes home again, but those who do help to improve the level of skills in the whole economy.

This widespread experience probably also encourages us to be more welcoming and understanding of the foreigners who decide Scotland is where they want to spend a period of their working lives. Look at our hospitality industry today or, a few years ago, the workforce for North Sea oil.

As a general rule, high immigration is not a tale of woe for either side, for those who come or those who go or for their respective host communities. It is rather the sign of success for the freedoms of capitalism. These have never been monopolised by any nationality.