I was a Corbynista once, until I woke from a sweat-drenched totalitarian nightmare, writes Bill Jamieson.
To Alison Thewliss, SNP Treasury spokeswoman, a bouquet of ambrosia is due. In calling for an end to inheritance tax evasion and urging devolution of inheritance tax “so that the Scottish Government could deliver a system designed to meet Scotland’s needs”, she has awoken dreams long forgotten.
How I thoroughly agreed. For I was a Corbynista once – ahead of my time, back in the day when the US embassy was in stoning distance, Paris was burning and students really were revolting.
This is how my dream went. The wealthy were really getting away with too much. Wealth inequality was rising. The children of the wealthy were getting an unfair start. And inheritance tax? Hoarding money for private family gain truly lay at the heart of a rotten tax system that needed instead to pursue income redistribution and build a fairer society. All this came with a set of beliefs: public spending cut by Draconian Tory austerity.
Amassing inheritance windfalls was a particularly egregious example of unfairness. Are there not growing signs that more people are avoiding or evading tax when fortunes are passed on?
Recent figures show that HMRC raked in a record £5.1 billion from inheritance tax in the year up to May 2017. But this is a shadow of what it should be collecting. Figures show the gap between the amount expected and the amount received has grown to £600 million in 2016/17 – up 50 per cent from five years ago. Little wonder Ms Thewliss says “the current system of inheritance is not fit for purpose with loopholes allowing the wealthiest individuals to avoid paying their fair share. “With Westminster having repeatedly failed Scotland on this issue, it is high time inheritance was devolved so that the Scottish Government could deliver a system designed to meet Scotland’s needs,” she adds.
Loopholes include individuals buying shares in the Alternative Investment Market (Aim) which reduces the inheritance tax bill. Then there’s partnership and trust fund arrangements, tax sheltered Individual Savings Accounts and generous pension tax relief. These have enabled older people to accumulate large amounts, often well above their day-to-day needs while younger people can barely get on the housing ladder.
So a sharp increase in inheritance tax, together with a lowering of the threshold for liability is long overdue. The present system only entrenches inequality and privilege.
And my dream did not stop there. A wealth tax needed to be introduced to promote equality and penalise wasteful consumption. The tax rate for higher earners is still well below those levied in socially progressive countries such as Sweden (highest rate 56.6 per cent) and Denmark (55.5 per cent). The greed culture of bonuses, sign-on payments, golden handshakes, and incentive awards should all attract higher tax levies.
Then there’s property taxes to curb the acquisition of needlessly large homes and, in particular, the growth of second homes in our Highlands and islands. A designated Second Homes Tax was required, together with higher council tax levy on properties other than main residence.
A tax on tourism was also overdue. Edinburgh has already reached peak tourism. Far too much money continues to be squandered on foreign holidays, luxury cruises – these appalling giant money-gobbling behemoths with slot machines in every open space and corridor. Hotels and B&Bs should also incur an additional levy based on the level of overnight rates. This would work to encourage eco-friendly, low-cost camping holidays. A fortnight spent cooking on a primus stove and foraging for food would do much to encourage healthy eating in line with Scottish Government guidelines and to combat obesity.
Extra levies should also be imposed on alcohol to combat anti-social behaviour and addiction. Ditto on chocolate products and sweets. Food distribution would be taken into public ownership and the likes of Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose replaced with community food banks.
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Now I did appreciate at the time that some might regard this programme as unpopular and oppressive. Would it not repress aspiration and life enjoyment? But that would be to overlook the huge increase in comfort and security we would enjoy through wealth redistribution and higher basic level of provision: the much under-appreciated social wage.
Health and social welfare programmes could be massively expanded. The ‘named persons’ scheme could be extended to all young people up to the age of 18, thus freeing parents of the burden of spending obligations and education provision – the government would provide. A massive extension of socially affordable homes could also be undertaken and existing social housing upgraded with municipal provision of all manner of facilities including exterior facelift, window lintels and personalised door colours to promote individuality.
Community gardens would be provided with council officers supervising fruit and vegetable cultivation. But that would not be the only area of guardianship oversight. Equality officers would monitor household spending and a needs inspectorate would be set up to ensure basic levels of provision of approved goods. Above all, the staff of HMRC would be extended, not only to ensure a clampdown on tax evasion and avoidance, but also to prevent individuals from over-saving for their pension and retirement needs. Thus we would all have uplift from a greatly enhanced and progressive social wage.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the rocky and hazardous path of growing up, I was shaken from this dream. I awoke instead into a sweat-drenched totalitarian nightmare. With control of inheritance tax, a fiery circle of hell had been made complete. I had no assets, no savings, no home, no life outside what the state ordained.
It suggested a psychiatric hospital with the soothing sound track of Charmaine playing as Nurse Ratched advanced towards me with the hypodermic syringe.
Or might it be Alison Thewliss MSP, quietly insisting that she could set me free, make me happy, banish my fears and return me to the blissful ambrosia of my dreams, where nothing is impossible and everything is free? But what in this world would be a return to dream, and what an extended nightmare with no escape?