That is the view of Michael Russell, the Scottish education secretary in the SNP government, who outlined his opposition to UK immigration policy in a speech in Edinburgh today.
Both he and Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish secretary in the Westminster government, spoke at the conference on “Higher Education, the Devolution Settlement and the Referendum on Independence”, organised by the Economic and Social Research Council.
“The debate south of the border is being driven by Ukip and by a nasty xenophobia which certainly revolts me and I think revolts many others,” Mr Russell said, adding that overseas students were treated as “subversive” or “freeloaders” by UK policy.
He pointed to Higher Education Statistics Agency figures which “show that since the Coalition came to power the number of students from India studying at Scottish universities has halved. In 2010-11 there were 3,290 students from India. The latest figures for 2012-13 show just 1,665.
“This is daft and self-defeating.”
Making his pitch ahead of the independence referendum in September, he said it was “essential” that Scotland was able to set its own policies on migration and citizenship.
“Scotland needs to be seen as a welcoming place, open for academic and research business and more than willing to see those of talent staying if they wish to build lives and careers. That cannot happen without independence.”
He added: “If autonomy is good for higher education, might it also be good for this country?”
However, Mr Carmichael attacked the “temerity” of Mr Russell to claim the UK immigration policy was “xenophobic” given Scottish universities would continue to charge students from the rest of the UK tuition fees after independence.
“Mike Russell has nothing to offer higher education in his vision of independence,” he said.
He also warned the Scottish government that leaving the UK means leaving the UK research councils and the funding they provide.
“National governments fund national research. There is no international precedent for sharing or replicating a system on the scale of the current UK funding streams across international borders. And that’s what a vote for independence this September would mean,” he said.
“Why would a state we had just chosen to leave continue to share funding and expertise?”