DAVID Cameron's bid to restrict rights of EU migrants coupled with significant devolution of new powers from Westminster will give Holyrood the opportunity to launch its own pro-European immigration policy, a leading academic has suggested.

 

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Dr Eve Hepburn, senior lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh, said that the Scottish Government will be able to offer welfare benefits and access to social housing to migrants on a discretionary basis, even if a renegotiation of the terms of Britain's EU membership meant they were not on offer anywhere else in the UK.

The move would potentially make Scotland by far the most attractive part of the country for migrants to settle and allow the SNP to pursue a policy of boosting the workforce with European labour, while Holyrood would keep any increases in income tax receipts.

In the run-up to the independence referendum, Alex Salmond said he wanted to attract 24,000 migrants to Scotland every year until 2030 to boost tax revenues and maintain public spending.

However, the Prime Minister has set out a "diametrically opposed" position, with targets to reduce immigration and restrict EU migrants' access to public services and benefits.

However, Dr Hepburn said that welfare powers set out in the Smith Commission may allow the Scottish Government to "contravene Mr Cameron's aim to reduce the social benefits of EU migrants across the UK".

In a submission to Holyrood's European and External Relations Committee, which meets today, she added: "In contrast to the increasingly anti-immigrant debates amongst political parties in England, Scotland's parties have carefully crafted an 'elite discourse that portrays immigrants as key players in an open, inclusive and multicultural Scotland'.

"Given that Scotland has devolved powers over an increasing number of areas that the UK Government wishes to renegotiate EU membership on, including migrant access to housing and healthcare, and proposed control of housing benefits, social care benefits, and disability benefits, this creates a situation in which Scotland could potentially grant such rights to EU migrants at its discretion, while Cameron's welfare cuts for EU migrants would only apply in the rest of the UK.

"Indeed, these new Scottish powers may mean that Cameron is only able to negotiate restrictions on migrant access to benefits in parts of the UK outside Scotland, as the UK Government is unable to legislate on Scottish matters."

In an illustration of opposing rhetoric adopted by UK and Scottish politicians, in a major speech in Brussels this week Nicola Sturgeon highlighted the economic and cultural contribution of the 170,000 EU migrants currently resident in Scotland. At the weekend she said that UK-wide, EU immigration had been worth £2 billion a year to the economy over a decade.

Mr Cameron, meanwhile, has placed the emphasis on his plan to ban EU migrants to claiming benefits, including access to social housing, for four years after arriving.

Meanwhile, Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, yesterday used his new prominent position at the first Prime Minister's Questions since the general election to highlight his party's liberal position on immigration, criticising the UK Government's "appalling record" on resettlement of Syrian refugees.

SNP Glasgow North MP Patrick Grady then highlighted the case of Dr Steve Forman, a world renowned American percussionist who has taught at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow and the Home Office is seeking to deport. The Prime Minister promised to look into the case "urgently".

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it "greatly values the contribution EU migrants make to our economy, society and communities".

She added: "EU citizens exercising their Treaty Rights have a legitimate reason to be here and will always be welcomed. Studies have shown that EU migrants come to Scotland and the UK to work - not to claim welfare benefits.

"Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has made clear that we want Scotland to remain in the EU, and to play a fuller role in shaping reform and developing the European Union of the future."