Net migration up 20 per cent

Figures show that limiting how many can come into the UK doesn’t necessarily translate to a drop in

Net migration to the UK rose by more than 20 per cent last year, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics annual bulletin showed that net long-term immigration was 196,000, up by 33,000 from 2008. This brings immigration close to record levels.

The number of people arriving in the UK actually fell slightly, by 4 per cent, taking the number from 590,000 to 567,000. However, this was offset by the number of people leaving -- both foreign nationals and British citizens -- which dropped even further, by 13 per cent.

Why are so many more people choosing to remain in Britain? It's possible that foreign nationals living and working in the UK are concerned about the coalition's cap on immigration. Those with UK work permits or other forms of legal status, but not citizenship or "indefinite leave to remain", might be concerned that if they leave the UK re-entry will be problematic.

UK citizens also stayed put, with long-term emigration falling to 371,000 last year from 427,000 in 2008. Why could this be? Difficult economic times are usually a push factor for people to leave the country. Perhaps, in the recession, fewer people are willing to take the risk, or are keen to hang on to their jobs -- it's all speculation.

What is certain, however, is that this highlights a fundamental flaw in the notion of the immigration cap, which David Cameron claimed would bring immigration down into the "tens of thousands".

Fundamentally, limiting the number of people who can come to the UK does not necessarily translate to a drop in net migration. Quite apart from the issue of EU immigration (which will not be included in the cap), we can see that there are numerous other factors, such as people choosing not to leave.

The number of people granted settlement in the UK between June 2009 and June 2010 also rose by 37 per cent. Of these people, 68 per cent were dependants of those already living in the country.

While the coalition plans to tighten rules on English testing for spouses applying for visas, it is difficult to see how it could feasibly (and humanely) limit the number of dependants coming to the UK. There is an ongoing debate about student visas, too; the number granted in the same period went up by 35 per cent, to 362,015.

It's a complex picture, and one that is difficult to decipher. But these figures certainly demonstrate that arbitrarily limiting immigration will, in itself, do nothing to solve the perceived problems. The consultation on how to put the cap into action ends on 17 September -- it will be interesting to see what the report comes up with.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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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