Many Scots are struggling to put food on the table nearly two months into lockdown, but at least the billionaires are doing alright. The Sunday Times Rich List showed Scotland’s super-rich grew its wealth by 13 per cent over the past year, an increase that Rich List compiler Robert Watts said was higher than the UK average.
Who makes up Scotland’s super-rich? At the top is Anders Povlsen, Scotland’s biggest private landowner. The Dane made his money from retail, and has a 26.4 per cent stake in Asos, the e-retail company that has been described as “putting profits before people” during Covid-19 by the GMB trade union at its huge retail depot in Barnsley, where a number of staff have contracted Covid-19. 500 workers walked out of the factory in March in protest at the “disgusting” conditions they were being forced to work in.
In second place is the Glenn Gordon Family, of Scotch Whisky distiller William Grant & Sons. They added a cool £300 million to the family fortune in one year to over £3 billion, so you’ld think they could cope with distilleries being down for a couple months in lockdown. Nope. The company, as a member of powerful lobbyist Scotch Whisky Association, successfully pressured the Scottish Government to keep distilleries open during Covid-19 to keep the profits churning in, even after the GMB surveyed members finding 82 per cent of workers thought there was not sufficient social distancing, and only 7 per cent believed they should continue whisky production during the crisis. One anonymous distiller told STV: “It matures for 12 years, it’s never going to be on a shelf until 2032…We’re making our communities less safe by doing this job. It’s a risk that’s totally unnecessary.”
Other familiar names on the list include Sir Ian Wood, North Sea oil, Mahdi Al-Tajir, Highland Spring, The Duke of Sutherland, art and land owner. A consistent theme of the rich list is people getting rich off the back of Scotland’s natural resources; immovable assets, and thus could be easily taxed. There is a definite case for at minimum a one-off wealth tax on Scotland’s super-rich, which could be levied at local authority level, to fund the rebuilding of Scotland in wake of the pandemic. Let’s say the public purse took the 13 per cent gained this year by the rich listers, which is just over £4.5 billion. The Scottish National Investment Bank is getting just £2 billion invested into over 10 years – imagine what a £4.5 billion cash injection could do right now. Alternatively, it is three times the cost Common Weal has estimated for a contact tracing and testing system for Scotland. Or another idea: the 170,000 health and social care staff in Scotland currently earning under £20,000 per year could get £2657 each.
There is no just economic recovery plan in Scotland which does not involve tackling its grotesque inequalities. The jobs of those on the rich list can’t be found on the government’s list of critical workers during Covid-19. No one has been made poorer or more vulnerable because the billionaires have been stuck in their huge landholdings for the duration of the lockdown. It’s about time those who do the work which actually creates the wealth, and who have risked their health and those of their families to keep working during this crisis, got a greater share of the pie.
Source Direct is a free morning newsletter providing you with all the latest Scottish news in your inbox each morning, including:
- Analysis of the key stories
- A summary of what’s in the Scottish papers
- The latest on Source
- Interesting opinion pieces from around Scottish media
- A letters section
- Upcoming events for activists
To sign-up for Source Direct, click here.