A hole in the plans of Scotland's 'tax the rich' brigade

It won't take many of Scotland's top-rate tax payers to leave to blow a hole in the tax take, says Merryn Somerset Webb.

I went on a Scottish TV programme last night to talk about the various attempts from the various parties to come up with an income tax plan that will differentiate them from each other. It isn't going that well.

The Tories are (perfectly sensibly) sticking with the tax structure on the go in the rest of the UK. The SNP is (oddly in my view) having a little kick at middle Scotland by refusing to pass on George Osborne's rise in the 40% threshold to them. Labour has a plan to make everyone pay more (1p on the two lower bands and 5p extra on the additional rate band), and the Greens have gone nuts with a plan to introduce a new band that would have everyone earning not much more than £27,000 paying more tax and those on £150,000 plus being hit with a nasty 60% rate.

One of the things the "tax the rich" brigade like to say in Scotland is that not very many of the well-off will leave if their tax rates goes to 50%. That may be so. But here's the problem. You don't need many of them to leave to have a serious fiscal problem.

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One person on £300,000 would pay a total of around £138,000 in tax (assuming no pension contributions and the like) if the top marginal rate in Scotland went to 50% that's £7,500 a year extra. Let's say that was the last straw for this person and he moved perhaps to England or perhaps to Singapore or somewhere his skills in finance, medicine or software will be highly valued and lowly taxed.

Pah you say, who cares about him? He's only one guy. Indeed he is. But that leaves the coffers £138,000 down. You need another 18.4 people on £300,000 not to move to make up the difference (18.4 x 7,500 = 138,000). There are around 17,000 additional rate taxpayers in Scotland. Assume they all make £300,000, and it only takes 890of them to think Northumberland (there would be only a millimetre of land between being taxed at 45% and being taxed at 50%) or Wiltshire or London or Singapore or Dubai looks nice for no extra money at all to be raised.

That's before the rich start looking for ways to avoid the new rate. It's also before we take into account the £40,000 of employers' national insurance (NI) that will be lost when he goes. Take that into account and you will need 23 people to pay to replace one that doesn't fancy it much. Look at it like that and it really doesn't seem like a good idea to raise taxes in one borderless area inside a single nation state, does it?

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.