Jim Duffy: Has the time come for a modern-day, businesslike Robin Hood?

A new state agency with real power to tax the highest earners could transform the country for the better, writes Jim Duffy

Think of the Wealth Police as our national friends, a bit like Robin Hood but dressed differently. Picture: contributed
Think of the Wealth Police as our national friends, a bit like Robin Hood but dressed differently. Picture: contributed

Fancy a visit from the wealth police? For some this would mean nothing, but others might need to hide under the table…

I was sitting in The Jolly Botanist in Edinburgh’s Haymarket eating the house burger with some chums chatting about this and that. The usual topics were on the menu – homelessness, North Korea, Trump and Fitbits. There were a few Guardian readers at the table, a few Scotsman readers and – oh my word – a Telegraph reader.

Needless to say, the conversation was lively and punctuated with a few mild expletives. Then I brought up the subject of a wealth tax in Scotland and indeed the UK. My leftie chums loved it, but others weren’t so sure. How monstrous – taxing people’s hard earned wealth – was the cry. But you know, I’m not so sure… I look forward to the day the Wealth Police come into action.

The first issue when the Wealth Police come to visit is easy. We need to set a level of national wealth for each person or couple that is fair. So what do you think that ought to be? I’m pitching for £2 million. That is a lot of wealth in Scotland. If you own a fancy la-di-da Mr Gunner Graham townhouse in the centre of Edinburgh and have a decent fully funded £1m pension, then you are doing well and could therefore contribute a bit more? Yes, £2m sounds like a good starting point, unless you beg to differ. Too high, I hear the SNP wing shout. I’m thinking they might want it set at £1m or even less. Too low, I hear the financial boys shout. We and some of our clients have tens of millions tied up, so this would be a catastrophe. Mmm, let me see. As this is my article and you are most welcome to retort, I’m setting the Wealth Police an initial target of £2m. So we can set the bar here and give the Wealth Police some purpose.

The next issue is giving the Wealth Police some power. For all intents and purposes, HMRC was set up to be the initial wealth police. But it has gotten lost in a world of fancy accountants, case law, offshore this and that and cuts to its manpower. So many governments have created so many new taxes which have then been “loopholed” by tax advisers and accountancy firms that tax law has become an industry in itself. Pause one moment and consider this. It’s a jaw-dropping number of people whose job is to deal with taxation. Just look at the massive wealth and cash swirling around the big four. No, when we set up the Wealth Police they will not be open to challenge from fancy accountants and lawyers. It will not be up to them to prove you have more than £2m in cash and assets, it will be up to you. And if you lie, avoid or in any way try to obfuscate your position, you will immediately go into jail. A jail that your taxes will ultimately pay for. No passing Go and no collecting £200 in this Monopoly board.

Ooo, I am liking the sound of this. If you mess with the Wealth Police, every day they have to spend examining your “story”, a hefty fine is built up and your accountant is banged up with you. That should do the trick, eh?

Next we have the issue of what is wealth and what is included. Let’s be clear – everything is on the table. All cash, deposits, houses, here and abroad, the lot. The Wealth Police are after your global assets. And the onus is on you to cough up. No more Paradise Papers discoveries. If the Wealth Police find this out – yes, you guessed it – it’s straight to jail unless you open your books. Anyone with cash or assets in the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands or in some Caribbean hideaway will be seen to be violating the nation’s trust and have to go on trial in public.

This then leads to an important part of the Wealth Police and how they function in society. They need to be seen by all Scots or all in the UK as working for everyone. This means they are gathering Wealth Tax that is immediately used over and above government spending and “regular” taxation to really make a difference right away. Imagine Camelot on steroids.

So, in effect, if the Wealth Police haul in £50m in the first month, this does not get absorbed but goes straight into Nicola Sturgeon’s Good Causes Fund. This fund then doles out the cash to those who need it. Heck, we could eradicate homelessness a lot quicker. But we all must see the Wealth Police as our “national friends”, a bit like Robin Hood but dressed differently.

All a bit tongue-in-cheek, I know, but I wonder if, by creating a society where an acceptable level of wealth was set at the top end, this would lead to less inequality further down the food chain.

Think of it this way, if you will. Camelot could pay out, say, £121m to one person in a single EuroMillions draw. It’s obscene and no one person should ever have that. It’s actually a headache. If Camelot gave 121 people £1m, the wealth is distributed more fairly and across the land. So, too, with the work of the Wealth Police. Taking back millions sitting in investments and offshore accounts and channelling this into other areas would be a windfall for our society. Think about it. We have funding gaps everywhere, from caring for old people to town centre libraries.

Isn’t it time to take a more radical approach and vote in the Wealth Police?