Scots have always gone their own way on immigration, displaying a markedly more relaxed attitude than polls indicate south of the Border.

The latest survey by the Migration Observatory shows that even the negative comment about eastern European migration emanating from Westminster over recent months has made little impact in Scotland.

This is good news for First Minister Alex Salmond, as it suggests his sensible stance on immigration could be a plus for him with voters. He signalled in the independence White Paper his intention to attract more highly skilled workers and overseas students to Scotland. The Scottish Government would like to encourage the latter to stick around after graduation and make Scotland their home through the reintroduction of the post-study work visa, which has been discontinued UK-wide by the Coalition. The Scottish Government would also like to introduce a points-based approach allowing for Scotland's skills needs to be met. The poll shows widespread support for those policies, with only 23% wanting to curb highly skilled workers moving to the country and only 22% wanting to reduce the number of overseas students.

Loading article content

Scotland has a rapidly ageing demographic and needs to increase its working age population. An influx of skilled and highly educated incomers from overseas is also likely to be important to boost Scotland's tax base and productivity, especially after the Institute of Fiscal Studies warned that an independent Scotland would face a £3.5 billion black hole caused by declining North Sea oil revenues.

Yet while Scots might be amenable to targeted immigration and while xenophobia is thankfully absent from public debate - it is inconceivable that any Scottish Government of the past 15 years would have sanctioned anything like the Home Office's deplorable "Go Home" poster vans - Scots are far from wholehearted supporters of immigration. Some 58% still say they want it cut, a majority, even if markedly fewer than the 75% who take that view in the rest of the UK. Scottish ministers plainly have work to do to persuade more Scots that increasing immigration would be wise.

Finally, the survey found that 60% of respondents thought immigration should be the responsibility of Holyrood. Immigration remains behind the economy and welfare in Scots' list of priorities, and is likely to remain so over the coming months, but the SNP will be heartened that Scots clearly favour Holyrood control over the issue. Meanwhile, it presents a challenge to the other parties over how far "devo max" might stretch.