Appearing at the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee, Mr Mackay said the UK government’s “one-size-fits-all” approach to immigration was unhelpful to Scotland.
Mr Mackay made the plea when he was questioned over gloomy forecasts made by the Scottish Fiscal Commission last week, which suggested there would be a £1.7 billion hole in public finances over five years as a result of falling wages and tax revenues.
The Finance Secretary argued that boosting the working population would help the Scottish economy and increase the tax-take north of the border.
“I would argue that it would be better to have more controls around immigration,” Mr Mackay told MSPs on the committee.
The Finance Secretary suggested that more immigration to Scotland was required to mitigate the economic impact of Brexit. He argued that Brexit would have an adverse impact on the NHS workforce, affect growth and reduce the working age population.
“Beyond that reducing immigration to the tens of thousands as the Prime Minister has discussed is singularly unhelpful to Scotland’s economy,” the Finance Secretary said. “We need to grow our economy, grow our population, grow our working age population. “ It is actually an area where there is a lot of consensus in Scottish politics. Every parliamentary party agrees on the needs of Scotland’s economy in that regard in relation to immigration.
“The UK one-size-fits all policy is not appropriate. It is counterproductive to our ambitions in this country as well as the social side of immigration how it enhances the diversity of your country.
“It is a reason to have more immigration control within the Scottish Parliament so that it can better use those particular levers to support our economy and our nation as well. Immigration is positive to the country. Per head for every EU migrant to Scotland the net economic contribution is something like £30,000 – net contribution to GDP. The fiscal tax take is £10,000. So pulling up the draw bridge, putting down barriers and telling people they are not welcome is most unhelpful to Scotland’s economic needs.”
In the Commons, Scottish Secretary David Mundell made clear UK ministers opposition to devolving immigration, arguing that the Scottish Government’s policy of making Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK would discourage people from moving north of the Border.