Should city-specific immigration come to London?

Imagine handing control of immigration to Boris. OK, not the best way to sell it, but still...

Brandon Fuller, a researcher for the NYU Stern Urbanization Project, suggests that American cities could benefit from the ability to issue their own visas (post one, post two):

Not all cities welcome additional immigration, but perhaps those that do could sponsor visa holders. The visa could be temporary and renewable, with a path to permanent residency and eventually citizenship. Visa holders would be free to bring their immediate family members with them...

A policy that allows a greater number of law-abiding immigrants into the American cities that want them most could do more for global welfare than other policies related to trade and aid. An effective policy of this sort would be a win-win—a way for struggling American cities to stabilize their populations and a way for immigrant families to live, work, and study in the United States.

The point is easily transferable to the UK, as well; though the reasoning is more political than economic.

London is far, far more pro-immigration than the rest of the UK. In a 2011 Ipsos MORI poll (pdf), 61 per cent of Londoners thought immigration is "a very big or fairly big problem", compared to a UK average of 75 per cent and a peak of 88 per cent in the West Midlands. Similarly, although 15 per cent of Britons opposed a cap on the number of non-EU workers, 23 per cent of Londoners did.

Obviously those figures still don't reveal a populace willing to welcome all-comers with open arms. But they do hint that a national anti-immigrant agenda could be tempered if London were given the power to control its own borders.

Of course, such a move wouldn't do wonders for relations between the capital and the rest of the country. Given the fact that the success which has already accrued to the capital from having an elected mayor has lead to calls to scrap the position to aid a "levelling down", it's hard to imagine the bad blood that could result from an immigration-driven economic boost.

A British citizen offers their passport for inspection. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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