Tomorrow the first charter flight of Syrian refugees will arrive in Glasgow, the first in a series of special flights to arrive in the UK.

Seventeen local authorities in Scotland have agreed to take in 350 refugees before Christmas, including that responsible for the island of Bute.

The backdrop as they settle in to the unfamiliar context of a new country couldn’t be worse. Even before the Paris attacks, events in Calais and throughout the Continent had created a tense, complex and apparently insoluble situation.

There will always be those who simplistically and opportunistically link asylum seekers with terrorist acts. Migration (of whatever sort) is already at the heart of the European referendum debate, and Friday’s events play right into the hands of xenophobes.

In France the Front National, already expected to do well in regional elections, will undoubtedly benefit, while here in the UK Nigel Farage’s band of Eurosceptics are bound to make hay. Yesterday in South Ayrshire, the Scottish Defence League protested against a hotel group with a record of welcoming refugees.

In the UK at least, such hostility is far from mainstream, although complacency is dangerous given that public opinion when it comes to refugees and immigrants more generally is far from that of the generally liberal establishment. The memorably intolerant character of Alf Garnett created by the actor Warren Mitchell, who died on Saturday, resonated because most Britons recognised (if not shared) his vigorous xenophobia.

It’s easy to caricature the UK’s experience of immigration, but the reality is more complex. In their new book on 1956, “The Year That Changed Britain”, Francis Beckett and Tony Russell consider Afro-Caribbean migration from Jamaica and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, concluding that while discrimination certainly existed (white Italians were generally made more welcome), post-war Britain grew strong and rich by being open to the world.

Even Enoch Powell, minister of health in the early 1960s, invited Commonwealth citizens to work in the NHS and thousands took him up on the offer; London, always a melting pot, gradually became the multicultural megacity it is today. Now this multiculturalist approach has its critics, but compared with the more assimilationist stance of countries like France, it now appears the more robust strategy.

It was clear from the First Minister’s response to events in Paris that she’s conscious of the fragility of Scottish and UK public opinion, which could easily harden in response. “We, like any country, will review matters in light of an event like this,” she commented at the weekend, “and we will want to be in a position of giving people the assurances they need.”

But “what we shouldn’t do”, added Nicola Sturgeon, “is turn on each other. Our Muslim community here are a valued and integral part of our society.” Indeed the SNP MSP and Scottish Government minister Humza Yousaf had already experienced predictably absurd tweets implying Scots Asians like him were now as much a “threat” as killers in France, to which he commented: “Unfortunately hatred against Muslims will spread thick & fast. Must stand united to oppose it.”

Responding to reports, meanwhile, that at least one of the attackers in Paris could have entered Europe (via Greece) posing as a Syrian refugee, yesterday the Home Secretary emphasized that those due to arrive in Scotland tomorrow had been thoroughly screened to ensure they did not pose a terrorist threat.

On one level the Paris attacks will provide a boost to the UK Government’s so-called “snooper’s charter”. Just two weeks ago Theresa May set out the provisions of the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which among other surveillance powers would enable the police and security services to access records tracking every UK citizen’s use of the internet without judicial oversight.

Labour and SNP MPs at Westminster have generally set themselves against such moves, arguing (not unreasonably) that such an erosion of individual privacy must always be justified and proportionate. Yet at the same time I wonder how long such a position can hold; defending civil liberties is an honourable position, but now that Paris has ended the division between battlefield and civilian territory, between tenuous justification (as in the case of Charlie Hebdo) and indiscriminate killing, it may not be a realistic one.

For even with tougher measures such as those advocated by the Conservatives, it simply won’t be possible to completely protect cities such as Paris, London and Rome from fanatical and suicidal terrorists intent upon creating as much carnage as possible.

So it’s important to be realistic in the weeks and months ahead, while I suspect similar tensions will become increasingly obvious among those opposed, again for perfectly honourable reasons, to a more muscular response to Daesh. The SNP, for example, continues to stress a diplomatic, financial and ideological effort in order to defeat Islamic extremism. It believes, unlike many Conservatives, that the case for extending UK military air strikes to Syria has not yet been made.

In the past, Nicola Sturgeon has spoken of a “long-term political and diplomatic solution” to the situation in Syria, while just last week the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson cautioned the Prime Minister to learn from mistakes in similar action in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya; Stephen Gethins, the party’s representative on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that airstrikes would only have a “marginal effect” and might compromise wider efforts to find a diplomatic solution.

But what precisely would a “diplomatic” response to a terrorist network which is neither an actual state (despite the pretensions of its nomenclature) nor one that operates within the standard international context of conflict resolution look like? Arranging a meeting with an ISIS ambassador to implore them to stop killing people simply isn’t an option.

The UK is not yet part of the coalition formed to “degrade and destroy” (in Barack Obama’s words) ISIS. Its combat aircraft are currently in action over Syria and Iraq, but it’s obvious that such a fragmented military effort – especially with the Russians doing their own thing – is unlikely to succeed, with or without ground forces. It may sound platitudinous, but what’s needed, more urgently than ever, is a more co-ordinated approach; if nothing else Paris ought to emphasise that there is a shared interest in doing so.

Whether or not the UK will play a part will undoubtedly be debated as the death toll inevitable mounts in Paris. Borders are closing all over Europe and President Hollande has already used the language of war. At the weekend Nicola Sturgeon got the tone right in response – she usually does – but public opinion is a fragile thing. Tomorrow, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll see if words are enough.