THE UK Government has shot down Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for a “Scottish visa” as part of its Brexit-related overhaul of the UK’s immigration system.

Within hours of the First Minister publishing a detailed policy paper on the idea, the Home Office dismissed it, bluntly declaring that immigration “will remain a reserved matter”.

The UK Government said different rules around the UK would “massively complicate” the system, although there might be regional variations in salary thresholds for UK visas.

The swift and brutal rejection, just days before Ms Sturgeon is due to set out her 'next steps' on a second independence referendum, suggests Boris Johnson is in no mood to give further powers to Holyrood in the current climate.

Earlier, Ms Sturgeon had warned a “blanket refusal” would reinforce the perception that Westminster was “incapable of accommodating Scotland's distinctive interest”.

The SNP said the UK Government needed to do much better than a “curt dismissal”, and it was only highlighting that “Westminster doesn’t work for Scotland”.

It followed the Scottish Government issuing a 94-page paper proposing a tailor-made Scottish visa to help cope with an end to freedom of movement after Brexit.

Scotland is wholly reliant on inward migration for population growth, and there are fears that if EU migration plunges after Brexit, Scotland’s population could stagnate or even shrink.

The First Minister said more immigration was needed north of the border to maintain the tax-base which pays for public services.

She proposed the part-devolution of immigration to Holyrood to attract migrants through a cheaper, simpler visa based on Scottish residency and the Scottish tax code.

It would be an “additional option alongside all other UK visas”, but less bureaucratic, with no employer sponsorship role or fees, no skills charges, and no salary threshold.

It would also offer a pathway to “permanent settlement in Scotland” and potentially the UK.

The Scottish Government would set the criteria for visas and recommend applicants.

The Home Office would then security vet applicants and ultimately grant leave to enter the UK on condition they live in Scotland.

She said the Scottish visa numbers might or might not be capped, and much would depend on dialogue with the UK Government.

She wanted to be as open and flexible in talks with Whitehall as possible, she said.

She also said that, although designed for devolution, the new system could be readily adapted for an independent Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon said: "The hard reality is this - without continued inward migration in the years ahead, there's a real risk that Scotland's working age population will fall.

"The end of free movement will, in my view, harm the whole of the UK, but it will be uniquely harmful for Scotland.

"It's likely to weaken our economy, damage the delivery of our public services and make some of our communities less sustainable."

She added: "A common, UK-wide approach to immigration simply hasn't worked in Scotland's favour for some time now.

"I hope the UK Government will be prepared to work with us to deliver a Scottish visa."

After launching the paper at an event in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said she was realistic about how hard it would be to engage the UK Government, but she could not ignore the issue.

She said she was “very sceptical” that the UK Government’s new points-based system would be hugely different from its current one, as the aim would still be cutting migration.

She said: “If we don’t have the ability in a Scottish context to counteract that, we run into all the problems that this paper sets out.

“I’m not going to sit here, given our experience with the UK government on all things Brexit-related, and say that I’m absolutely certain they’re going to jump up and say yes to all of this. I don’t underestimate how challenging this is going to be.

“But equally I know what the risks and the realities will be if we don’t have this.

“If you’re going to have a UK-wide system that is trying to cut migration, and that is a one size fits all, that’s pretty disastrous for Scotland.

“So if they want to have that objective in the rest of the UK, but allow some variation within Scotland, then there’s a discussion to be had there.

“If there is a complete blanket refusal to discuss these things, this sort of view that the Westminster system is incapable of accommodating Scotland’s distinctive interest, just becomes more and more of a real thing.”

However the Home Office immediately rejected the idea, saying the new immigration system being introduced in 2021 would remain reserved to Westminster.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Immigration will remain a reserved matter. The UK Government will introduce a points-based immigration system that works in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.

“We want to understand the specific needs of the whole of the UK, which is why we have engaged extensively with stakeholders across the UK, including the Scottish Government.”

A UK Government source added: 'We are not planning to devolve immigration, not least because Scottish businesses do not want that to happen.

“They fear the additional red tape it would bring.

'The issues facing Scotland are not unique to Scotland, so we want to develop a system that is flexible enough to work for all parts of the UK.

'There has been less migration to Scotland than to some other parts of the UK.

“The Scottish Government have extensive economic powers and should be using those to make Scotland a more attractive place to settle, live and work."

SNP migration minister Ben Macpherson said: “The proposals for a tailored migration policy for Scotland are supported by employers, universities and organisations across Scotland and are an essential part of sustaining and improving economic growth, prosperity and public services.

“A failure by the UK Government to support proposals to meet Scotland’s unique needs would be a further sign that the system does not work for Scotland, and it is to be hoped the UK Government rethinks this out of touch response.”

SNP MSP Tom Arthur said: “Industry and employers recognise that getting the migration system right is vital for our social and economic wellbeing, and the support shown for the Scottish Government’s proposals are heartening.

“Considering that support, the UK government need to do much better than a curt dismissal.

“Simply dismissing this serious plan out of hand proves our point that Westminster doesn’t work for Scotland.”

Labour MSP Claire Baker said: “Scotland faces particular demographic challenges, and we need a compassionate, fair immigration system that supports our economy, public services and all our people.

“Therefore, Scottish Labour supports exploring a degree of flexibility within an overarching UK immigration system. We look forward to seeing the detail of the government’s proposals.”

Alison Evison, president of the council umbrella group Cosla, added: “Cosla would like this policy paper to start a meaningful debate on what our immigration system should look like post-Brexit.

"There is a strong unified voice across all sectors in Scotland in favour of a flexible immigration system that can meet our particular economic, workforce and population needs.

"For many years, Cosla has been calling for an immigration system that can be responsive to local as well as national needs and that recognises and addresses the challenges that we face.

"We have to identify more policy levers to encourage people to move to Scotland and Local Government has a key role to play in developing an immigration system that works for every part of Scotland.

"We look forward to engaging in a fruitful conversation to enable this to happen.”

Andrew McRae of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, said: “The new paper from the Scottish Government is a timely and evidence-based intervention.

“It sets out a pathway towards a UK system that can flex for Scotland’s distinct demographic and economic needs, without creating additional burdens for smaller businesses.

“The UK Government should acknowledge that it is possible and desirable to enable its immigration system to respond to different regions and nations, as well as maintain strict border controls and a user-friendly system.”