Renewing Scotland: Part 2 – Harnessing Potential

Renewing Scotland: Part 1 – Grasping the Grid here

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Source here

In my last article I discussed the set up of the UK electrical grid and outlined why its design is not conductive to the development of a renewable future based largely in Scotland and that that potential future, should we develop it, would vastly outstrip our own demand.

In this one I’ll be taking a look at some of the technology which will get us there. The generation side of things has already been well discussed but one of the large detracting claims against renewables is their intermittent nature and the need for energy storage. In this, large and rapid steps are already being taken. Of course, there’s only so much that a 2,000 word blog post can discuss in an area that can cover many books and hours of lectures. This is just an introduction to a vast area of research.

The Wind Blows High, The Wind Blows Low

The first thing anyone can tell you about most renewables is that they are either intermittent, unpredictable or both. The wind is usually blowing somewhere but the strength of the wind is highly variable at any particular site.

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In the UK, the wind blows fast enough to turn a turbine more than 95% of the time but this may still leave the equivalent of several days in the year when there’s almost no power generation no matter how many turbines there are. Similar issues may occur with solar – it is, of course, dark at night and short, gloomy winter days won’t produce as much power as Scotland’s annual sunny Tuesday in July – and while tidal power, like Scotland’s new Meygen installation, is predictable years in advance, they only produce power according to the cycle of the tides which may not be in sync with demand. It should be noted though that with proper understanding of siting, event intermittent tidal can produce some guaranteed baseload.

Some mileage towards our goal of 100% renewable power will be gained simply by building overcapacity into the system although this quickly increases the cost of the system. The complimentary nature of our renewable sources is also a major boon. As it turns out, the long, solar friendly summer days of the UK and the dark windy winter nights mean that a combination of solar and wind is very nearly self balancing over longer time periods.

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Source here

Of course, stability over days, weeks and months means little if it doesn’t also come with stability over seconds, minutes and hours. No-one wants their lights flickering or power dropping randomly. At some point, we must start considering building energy storage into the grid. This, rather than generation, will be the challenge of renewables. As pointed out in the previous part of this series, we more than have the resources, we just need to be able to spread them out so that demand is met at all times.

Bottling Lightning

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Just as no one energy generator can suit every need, so no one energy storage device can suit all purposes. Every storage device has its own capacity (i.e. how much energy it can store. This can also be coupled with energy density which will determine the volume of the device for a given amount of stored energy) and its own discharge rate (which determines the power delivered by the device and also determines how long the device can run before depleted) as well as other more economic factors such as cost per kWh (Terminology note. If a device can output 1 kW of power and can maintain that for one hour before depletion, it has a storage capacity of 1 kWh) and cycle lifetime (many storage devices degrade or fail after a number of charge/discharge cycles so must be replaced regularly)

As the chart above suggests, the various technologies can be ranked according to their energy and power ratings and thus can be discussed in terms of their distinctive roles within the energy storage network.

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Seconds to Minutes – Surge Protecting and Load Balancing

On short timescales, we’re not so much discussing energy storage as load balancing. On extremely short timescales, less than a couple of seconds, there are various devices embedded within the grid infrastructure designed to ensure that all generators are frequency and phase matched and that the grid is free from noise.

On slightly longer scales, seconds to minutes, the amount of power supplied must match demand at all times even if the wind drops or a power station happens to go down right at the moment that everyone in the country sticks the kettle on at the end of some popular TV program or the other. It can take time to spin up turbines which are idle but conversely it can also take time for spinning turbines to wind down. In a conventional grid, this is where large powerplants, with turbines weighing many tonnes each, has an advantage over relatively small turbines found in wind generators. This time it takes for a large plant’s turbine to spin down gives the grid time to react and bring other plants online.

This problem can be mitigated by technologies such as dedicated flywheels which provide the same inertial storage as was found in the conventional generators.

Whilst the mechanical infrastructure required to run a flywheel (Vacuum pumps, cryocoolers, computer control etc) can be more complex than a battery of similar size they do have advantages in that they can have a longer lifespan in terms of charge and discharge cycles. This makes them particularly suited for rapid response and frequent use roles such as maintaining grid stability during short spikes and dips in demand and supply.

Minutes to Hours – Timeshifting and Demand Curve Smoothing

Flywheels can be used to store and deliver energy for a surprisingly long time, one recent example of a magnetically levitated, vacuum sealed flywheel can store 5 kWh and output 3 kW implying a run down time of over an hour and a half.

At some point though, some of the advantages of current battery technology begin to take over. The abovementioned flywheel is described as being moveable “by forklift” whereas a 5 kWh Li-ion battery is more like a two-person lift. The exact position of this overlap is likely to be highly dependent on how the various technologies develop but with much of the focus of current research being in batteries for the vehicle industry, the high end of this time scale is likely to be dominated by that technology for some time.

The importance of this region of storage technology lies in dealing with the various timeshifts and demand curve smoothing which will be required when managing a renewable grid. The sun shines (unsurprisingly) during the day but, especially during the winter, demand is at its highest in the evening. This may be compounded once everyone has transitioned to electric vehicles, all thirsty for a recharge after the working day although even this can be managed through smartgrid technology which can schedule your highest demand appliances such that they run when the supply/demand ratio is favourable.

This is the timescale on which much of the technology is already well established (albeit not yet at the scales required for a nation level energy storage based grid) and even with the battery sector, many technologies exist from familar Li-ion and lead-acid batteries to less well known molten sodium/sulphur cells and flow batteries (see page 20 onwards here). All of these different battery designs come with their own energy densities, power cycle lifetimes and (crucially when aiming to reach a “Green” economy) environmental impacts. New technologies may also provide further breakthroughs in the future.

Hours, Days and Longer – Power Reserves

Whilst a properly designed, diverse renewable grid will rarely see prolonged periods of demand exceeding supply it can happen. A series of cold, dull, calm winter nights with short, foggy days never giving the solar panels enough time to charge the batteries supplying our evening heaters is about the most challenging period that the Scottish grid could reasonably expect. Linking the Scottish grid to other grids around Europe and beyond will help in most cases but this ultimately merely pushes the problem around rather than ultimately solves it. There will still be instances, especially if Europe also moves towards a 100% renewable supply, when demand exceeds supply across the entire network.

To mitigate this, various longer term storage devices must be considered. Chief amongst these is pumped hydro.

This principle here is simple. Two lakes, one higher than the other, linked via a reversible turbine. When supply exceeds demand, water is pumped to the upper reservoir. When demand exceeds supply, it is dropped back down and generates electricity. The cycle efficiency of this process is remarkably high, up to 90%, and the stored water can be held for a long time compared to capacitors, flywheels and batteries, being governed by the evaporation and other losses in the reservoir. Every meter you can raise a tonne of water gives you around 9.8 kJ (2.7 Wh) of stored potential energy (before losses).

The major downside of pumped hydro is that its energy density is comparatively low meaning that very large areas need to be flooded to provide the required capacity and there are significant geographic constraints on the placement of such reservoirs. The best locations for hydro (pumped and unpumped) in Scotland have largely already been developed with significantly constrains further expansion.

Offshore water resources can offer some additional capacity here in the form of lagoon  storage tidal – although without pumping this can only raise water by a couple of meters meaning vast areas must be encircled to capture enough energy to be useful and the power can only be released when the tide is lower than the stored water which reduces the ability of the storage to produce energy on demand.

Another more speculative offshore hydro storage method is currently in development off the coast of Belgium. This method involves building a shaft out at sea from which the water can be pumped out to create the required potential energy drop. The process can then be reversed and the sea allowed to flow back into the shaft. If the engineering challenges allow this to be built in seas more than a couple of tens of meters deep then this technology could greatly compliment Scotland’s offshore wind resources.

Which takes us to one last set of ideas for long term storage.

With a surfeit of cheap offshore energy at our disposal we could be channeling some of it into energy intensive chemical storage processes. One of the conceptually simplest methods is cracking seawater into hydrogen. The hydrogen economy is one which is still vying for some share of the post-internal combustion vehicle industry given that hydrogen fuel cells offer some of the highest energy density processes by unit mass of any chemical reaction. The problems with it is that hydrogen also offers the lowest energy density chemical reaction per unit volume – a pipe carrying hydrogen gas needs to be substantially larger than a pipe carrying a similar mass of natural gas. There are also material considerations as hydrogen tends to adsorb into, embrittle and escape from just about anything you try to pump it through. To save on infrastructure, we could consider blending the hydrogen into the existing natural gas network but this only takes us so far as we can only blend in so much without affecting the quality of the gas. Finally, there are concepts involving of combining liquid hydrogen (cooled to below 20 K, -253 C) with superconducting electrical lines (cooled by the hydrogen) but these too are a long way off practical realisation.

But wait a moment. That idea of using the existing natural gas infrastructure. Why not take that a step further too? Why not extract not just hydrogen from seawater by CO2 as well? If we can do that, we can make use of an economy already so addicted to oil that it’s difficult to change and turn it to our advantage. We could make carbon neutral hydrocarbons, store them until they are needed and then either burn them in our vehicles (assuming the process turns out to be cleaner and more effective than electrical cars turn out to be) or in existing gas power plants (assuming localised pollution issues are taken care of) or create some kind of fuel cell economy based on them.

The US navy is experimenting with this idea in order to shorten supply lines for their aircraft carriers as well as enabling them to keep operational when the nearest refueling station may well be the one they are currently bombing into rubble but Scotland could adapt for more peaceful means. It’s also the first step along the way to going from a low carbon economy, through a carbon neutral economy and onwards to a carbon negative economy where we are pulling more excess CO2 out of the environment than we are putting in (which will be an essential step if we want to not only avoid climate change damage but if we want to fix the damage we’ve already caused).

This process is (currently) fairly inefficient, involves moving vast quantities of water (the concept above processes 23,000 litres of water for every litre of fuel produces) and carries some problems to be solved involving the capturing of excess methane (methane is 25 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide so any leakage could lead to our carbon removal scheme doing more harm than good) but I could well see an offshore rig built in the middle of an offshore wind farm acting not only as a service base and energy storage platform for the turbines but also as a plant producing natural gas and other hydrocarbons and piping them ashore. There’s an idea that could turn Scotland into an oil producing nation, sustaining high skill offshore work for as long as the wind blows and the tide turns.

And I bet that’s an energy plan you never thought you’d see come from a Green.

Finally

So we’ve looked at the current status of the electrical grid in Scotland and now we’ve examined what’s needed to store energy and mitigate intermittency in supply. In the next part, I’ll try and give some idea of what the whole renewable grid would look like when it’s up and running. And just to finish off this already fairly video heavy post I’ll leave off with just one more explaining a few more storage devices (including stored heat which is a whole other area I haven’t covered) and their pros and cons.

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We Need To Talk About: GERS (2015-16 Edition)

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us! – To a Louse, Robert Burns

It’s that time again. The annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland report is out. Click the link or the image below to read it for yourself.

GERS 2015-16

Actually it seems like only March that the last edition was out. What’s happening here?

Well, there was a consultation that almost no-one knew about which discussed a few methodological changes to GERS in line with the ‘new powers’ we’re getting and it also asked if the next report should be brought forward. I’m completely convinced that the fact that this means that we’re getting the report well before the Council election campaign next year is absolutely just a convenient side effect(!)…but no matter. We’ve got the data.

Tomorrow’s Headline Today

Scotland’s budget deficit remains at a little under £15 billion. As with last year, don’t expect a single news outlet to go one single step further with the story than that. Except maybe to say that oil revenue has dropped from £1.802 billion last year to just £60 million this year.

So what’s happened? Why hasn’t Scotland, which is “totally dependent on oil”, completely collapsed now that oil revenues have basically dropped to zero?

Last year, total revenues dropped by  around £500 million on 2013-14. This year, total revenues have INCREASED by £181 million. In fact, total revenue is higher than it was in 2012-13 when we received some £5.3 billion in oil revenue.

It’s also worth noting that if you only look at GERS 2015-16 then it looks like our deficit has increased by a couple of hundred million in the past year but if you look a bit deeper, and compare the numbers to previous GERS reports then something interesting happens.

In GERS 2014-15 our deficit was recorded as £14.8 billion but in GERS 2015-16 the 2014-15 deficit has somehow dropped by £622 million to £14.3 billion. Essentially, this shows one of the limits of GERS in that it is based on sometimes highly speculative estimates which get revised over time. It may be five years before we finally know the “true” accounts figures for this year. This accounting adjustment is extremely significant compared to, say, our “budget underspends” but unless you’ve read it here I expect it to pass entirely unnoticed.

Now, what about our all hallowed GDP? It’s down by 0.45% from £157.502 billion in 2014-15 to £156.784 billion in 2015-16 (with non-oil GDP having increased by over £2.2 billion, the highest it’s ever been).

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You know, perhaps it’s time we started measuring our economy in terms other than just GDP. We know it’s flawed. We know it throws up extremely strange results like Ireland’s “economy” growing by 25% because a few American companies moved their nameplates around. We know it doesn’t even particularly correlate to things like tax and ability to service debt very well.

Maybe it’s time we started measuring (and taxing) our country based on the things which actually matter.

But back to GERS.

Dutch Disease with Scottish Characteristics

So what’s going on here? Essentially it’s the same pattern first picked up last year. As oil prices drop, so do fuel costs. Which means everything from the costs of transporting goods to the heating and lighting costs for your home drops. This means you have more money to spend in the economy and companies have fewer overheads leading to either greater profits (thus, ideally, more tax revenue) or more room to invest in expansion.

This is a clear demonstration of the so-called “Dutch Disease” where high oil prices choke off the non-oil based economy in the form of the aforementioned fuel costs (it also tends to harden one’s currency but this is less of a factor in the Scottish case given that we don’t yet have one).

At the time of the last report I was criticised for pointing this out on the grounds that the oil price collapse “hadn’t fully fed through” hence I was jumping the gun on the observation. It shall be interesting to see if anyone says the same thing now. Could revenues drop any lower?

This should serve as somewhat of a warning to those itching for the return of high oil prices and certainly for those desperate to “replace” offshore oil with onshore fracking. It’s maybe time to have a good hard rethink about what kind of resources we want to develop in Scotland. Now, to be sure, I’ve nothing against our offshore industry and for those folk out there it’s been a pretty dreadful time. It’s just that, certainly as a Green, I think our offshore industry is on the wrong side of the country and should be based on wind/wave and tide rather than oil. You can be sure that  if the wind and tide stops flowing we’ll be dealing with problems a little bit larger than the state of our finances.

Scotland Offshore Wind Power Density

Scotland’s offshore Wind Power Density map

Sweet Fiscal Autonomy

As mentioned earlier, part of the methodological changes discussed in the GERS consultation was to do with looking at the taxes to be devolved to Scotland under the series of “vast, new powers” we’ve been generously granted.

In terms of actual revenue, chief amongst these is income tax (excluding interest and dividends, the ability to move the Personal Allowance or to adjust the definition of “income”) and VAT (excluding any actual control at all. We’re getting the VAT added to Scottish coffers and then an equivalent amount removed from the block grant. Yay.) along with comparatively minor taxes like landfill tax, aggregate levy and air passenger duty.

In total, the Scottish government will directly receive 40.5% of Scottish revenue (£21.8 billion this year) and, given the limitations on VAT and income tax, have actual, practical control over perhaps half of that. Devolved expenditure, however, will soon sit at 63.1% of total (£43.3 billion). Basically the Scottish government can only directly control enough income to fund perhaps about a quarter of what it’s directly responsible for delivering.

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There’s a side issue in all of this related to that old topic of the budget underspends. Tucked away on page 47 of GERS there’s an interesting line which looks at the confidence intervals for some of the tax revenues used. Remember that the revenues given are estimates and are subject both to revision over time and change due to circumstances that the government cannot control. For example, if you move job half way through the tax year your income, therefore income tax, can change. If your job moves you to England, your entire income tax contribution moves from the Scotland side of the budget to the rUK one. Hence, the total income tax revenue estimate is subject to a margin of error, in this case of 1.0%.

The same goes for other taxes to greater or lesser degree to the effect that the margin of error over all of the taxes measured there is 1.6% or ±£570 million.

Remember that the Scottish Government has extremely limited borrowing powers. It can only “overspend” on the current budget by £200 million in a single year and cannot exceed a total current debt of £500 million. And yet income revenue, on which expenditure must be planned, has a margin of error of ±£570 million.

In the event, this year Scotland’s “underspend” was only £150 million. If you think you can plan a budget better than this then please, send it in. If not, might be a good idea to stop reporting and moaning about underspends.

Paying For It

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Another little line that seems to have been added to GERS this year (on page 37) is a breakdown of the annual costs of financing Labour’s PFI and the SNP’s replacement NPD loans. There’s been a bit of a milestone reached there with the availability costs of PFI now exceeding £1 billion per year or over 15% of Scotland’s total capital budget and slated to increase even further over the next decade unless something is done about it. Don’t be surprised if this becomes a major issue for the council elections next year.

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Of course and once again you wouldn’t know this if all you did was watch our Great British Broadcaster, the BBC. Their recent “investigation” into PFI couldn’t even bring itself to mention the name of the party which lumped this crippling financial burden on us.

Finally

I could go on. We could nip-pick at details like the mysterious addition to the expenditure budget of net EU contributions (there’s always been an annex discussing this but this is first year it has explicitly been counted in a separate line in Total Expenditure) or notice that for the first time in at least five years our debt interest paid has increased as our UK debt increases have started to outweigh the effect of falling bond yields.

It’s all a shell game though. We know that GERS isn’t nearly as important as people hold it to be nor is it nearly as informative as it should be. It’s not going to change many minds on its own nor does it tell us one single thing about the finances of an independent Scotland. If we want to do that, we’re going to need to build a national budget from scratch, taking into account all of the taxes (existing and new) that an independent Scotland might choose to levy. We also need to have a look again at what Scotland actually needs to spend its money on. Could we use Citizen’s Income to create from scratch a welfare system worthy of the name? Would a Scottish Government able to issue its own bonds on its own debt be able to get a better deal than the one we have right now?

Quite simply can Scotland as a nation see ourselves as better than others would prefer us to be seen?

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Poll: Scottish Independence and the EU

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I’d like to run another informal poll. This time looking at attitudes towards independence in the light of the EU situation. Whilst all views are welcome I’m particularly interested in hearing from the segment of the voting population who are for Scotland’s independence from the UK but are skeptical of or outright against Scotland’s membership of the EU.

If, as appears highly likely, we are presented with an independence referendum predicated on EU membership, which way would you vote?

Please feel more than free to use the comments to expand on your thoughts. Incidentally, if you are someone who previously voted or were minded to vote No in 2014 but have since changed your mind to Yes, I’d also love to hear your views.

As previously, if this is your first time commenting on this blog or if you include more than a couple of external links in your comment it is likely that you’ll land in the moderation queue. I’ll try and approve things as quickly as I can.

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A Sovereign Currency for an Independent Scotland

As promised, I can finally reveal my work examining Scotland’s currency options going forward into the next independence campaign.

My report has been published through Common Weal and can be read here or by clicking the image below.

Currency cover

In it I first examine the macroeconomic considerations which go into selecting a currency option, chiefly looking at the interaction between movement of capital, interest rates and exchange rates. It turns out that it is impossible to have full control over all three at any one time so all currency options entail therefore some degree of risk or management requirements including the founding of infrastructure such as a Central Bank. All options have their advantages and disadvantages, their risks and rewards.

Continue reading

We Need To Talk About: A Negative Income Tax

First up, my apologies for going a little dark on the blog recently. Last month, I promised my thoughts on Scotland’s currency options going into the next independence campaign. That promise has turned into something a little bit larger than expected and will be coming soon. I think you’ll like it.

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Scotland’s Income Distribution 2013-14

In the meantime, I’ve been pondering on some possible options regarding how we could reform Scotland’s welfare system, especially in the light that the UK has been explicitly called out by the United Nations for breaching human rights obligations due to the suffering caused by Austerity, inequality and the unfair and miserly welfare system in which too many find themselves trapped. The use of sanctions has been singled out as particularly cruel with countless cases of hardship and even deaths being directly linked to their use.

Both the Greens and Common Weal have been steadfast supporters of the policy of Citizen’s Income (or Universal Basic Income), a policy which is rapidly gaining traction around the world and is starting to look as if its time has come.

Under this policy the entire welfare system – with all its inequalities, complicated means-tested targeting, exceptions, exemptions, loopholes, paperwork, cheats, dodges, admin errors, fraudsters, bureaucracy and people simply missing out entirely because they don’t know they’re owed money or do but don’t, can’t or won’t claim – is done away with and replaced with a simple, regular payment to every citizen. You can’t claim money you’re not owed (except possibly by claiming for a dead relative or for kids you don’t have) and you can’t be missing out on money you don’t think you’re due. By the way, unclaimed money in the UK welfare system outweighs fraudulently claimed money by more than a factor of 10 and is dwarfed by tax avoidance by up to a factor of 100!

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A Universal Basic Income also gives everyone a stake in the system and a guaranteed safety net if and when it is needed (in much the same way that the NHS is open and free at the point of use even if you can afford private care).

One of the downsides of Basic Income is that it does involve a large amount of money transfers. If we wanted to give all 5.3 million citizens of Scotland a Basic Income of, say, £73.10 per week (~£3,800 per year, the same as the current Jobseekers Allowance) then it would involve a monetary transfer of £20.1 billion per year which is only a couple of billion less than the entire social protection program for Scotland (which, of course, pays out a rather larger sum than £73.10 per week to many people such as pensioners and those with disabilities). Now, of course, this doesn’t imply that Basic Income would cost £20 billion per year. The idea would be that some threshold income would be set above which the income would be taxed back off you until the costs balanced and then onwards till you were a net contributor and helped to fund others (or, as an alternate POV, you were paying into the system to cover yourself for the times when you needed to withdraw). Regardless, the scale of the monetary transfers may be a significant bureaucratic barrier but so is the current piece-meal system that it would be replacing.

I fully support Citizen’s Income as a policy for an independent Scotland but we can’t do it now as we don’t have powers over welfare. I’m not keen on putting grand plans on hold till that day though so I’ve been giving thought to how Scotland could achieve a similar goal of a universal safety net using powers that we have right now. We don’t have power over welfare but do, finally and after great trials and tribulations, have powers over most of income tax.

This led me to thinking about a project advocated in 1968 by the economist Milton Friedman. The Negative Income Tax.

The concept is this. Instead of just having a low earnings threshold below which you pay zero tax (The UK Personal Allowance fulfills this purpose here) why not a threshold below which you receive a tax refund?

In this scheme Scotland could set an income threshold, say £16,500 – the equivalent of a full time job on the Living Wage. If you earn less than that in a year, the difference between what you earn and the threshold could be taxed at NEGATIVE 23%. If you only earned, say, £10,000. You would receive as a stipend 23% of £6,500 which is £1,495. If you earned nothing in the year, you’d receive 23% of £16,500 which is around £3,800 – The same as the current Jobseekers Allowance. The tax rate of -23% was chosen specifically to create that latter situation. One could easily imagine different rates or even a progressive system to cover people who fall seriously below the threshold proportionately more than those who only fall slightly under.

This system wouldn’t be a perfect substitution for Citizen’s Income for a few reasons. Most significantly, it is a lot easier to abuse or cheat the system by under-reporting one’s income, for example. If rates and thresholds are set inappropriately it may also lead to disincentives to work at around the threshold where someone converts from a recipient to a contributor though in the simple scheme proposed here this is less of an issue.

Negative income tax does have an advantage over Citizen’s Income by reducing the volume of monetary transfer though as only those who are earning below the threshold receive the stipend rather than everyone.

So how much would this cost? To find out, I’ve done some modelling using available income statistics, in particular the breakdown of income percentiles for the UK (percentile resolution income data for Scotland doesn’t seem to be easily available. If anyone out there knows of someone who does have it then please contact me, I’d be very interested in seeing it) .

Income Percentiles

One shocking thing about the UK is that the threshold we set, of £16,500 per year (which is, remember, the amount that said to be required to maintain a decent standard of living) is not reached until the 32nd percentile. Almost one in three workers in the UK are not earning enough to live on.

If we now add our negative income tax to this model to see how much a median person within each percentile would receive it looks something like the following.

Change in Income - No UR Tax

Something to bear in mind it this income percentile data only includes people who have at least some kind of earned income. It does not include the unemployed or those who are unable to or are not seeking work, the “economically inactive”. The ONS estimates that these two groups together make up around 21.6% of the UK working age population. If we factor that group into the figures modeled here (and assuming that Scotland’s figures are roughly in line with the UK’s which will be good enough for this back-of-envelope calculation) we can estimate that the negative income tax would cost Scotland around £2.4 billion per year.

This is where things get a little tricky for the policy idea. The obvious answer to meet the costs is by adjusting the upper rates of income tax to render the scheme revenue neutral. The problem is that the UK (and Scotland) are predominantly low wage, high inequality countries. We’ve already stated that if you’re on the absolute basic wage you’re already earning more than almost a third of other workers (and this doesn’t include those earning nothing). If you pay the 40% Higher Rate, you’re in at least the 86th percentile – the top 15% of earners – and if you pay the 45% Additional Rate (assuming you are even taking those earnings as “income” and aren’t transferring money into dividends or using more arcane accounting wizardry to minimise one’s tax bill) then you are in at the very least the top 2% of earners. This doesn’t leave a very large tax base from which to levy the required funds (This was one of the reasons that the policy advocated by the Greens for the return of the 50% rate was based on reasons of income and wealth equality rather than revenue raising and did not make any spending predictions or promises based on additional revenue from this band).

If one DID want to raise income taxes to find the £2.4bn then doing it solely through the Additional Rate simply would not be possible. Even raising it to 95% (and assuming that everyone pays it) would only cover half of that bill. In order to do it with the Higher Rate, both Higher and Additional Rates would need to be raised to a minimum of 58%.

Now, a normal, independent country would not face this problem because it would be able to tailor the other half of the balance sheet as well. If a negative income tax is replacing welfare spending then the welfare budget would decrease and the balance sheet would..well..balance. But in Scotland’s case, welfare is reserved so what becomes a simple exercise in government policy which would pay for itself and hugely benefit the poorest in our society becomes a constitutional question and a financial bung of £2.4 billion per year to Westminster. Whilst we have the “powers” to adjust our tax rates, Scotland just simply does not have the ability to use them in any kind of effective manner. Those who demand that “we use the powers we have” whilst blocking the levers which would otherwise allow us to do so should reflect on their actions and words. I’m thinking particularly of our Secretary of State “for” Scotland, the “Right Honourable” David Mundell who, as we remember, has not only taunted the Scottish Government towards “using our powers” but has also threatened to tax any welfare top-ups the Scottish Government might be willing to grant. I hold no great hope of Westminster’s generosity extending to them returning saved welfare money in order to pay for a negative income tax.

I’m open to suggestions at this point. If anyone can square this circle, please…please tell me. I think I’ve found a policy which, on paper, would be within Scotland’s current powers to implement but I can’t find a way to make it work within the pitiful financial constraints of our devolution. I don’t want to have to “wait till indy” to get some of this vital work started nor am I content knowing that people could be helped but cannot be because of Westminster’s refusal to either do it or to hand over the reigns to someone who will.

This shouldn’t be such a difficult process. Only in Scotland, within the United Kingdom, in the 21st century, where we’re told we’re incapable of governing ourselves, whilst those who say that they can govern stand by and either do nothing or actively work against us, does it become one.

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