A Look at Scotland’s Wealth Distribution

  The independence referendum brought us many things; a thousand or more Braveheart analogies, the ghost of Labour’s once absolute Scottish dominion, and an endless stream of statistic-fuelled warfare from both sides of the debate. It was, after all, about money and prosperity; about whether Scotland is stronger or weaker as an independent nation, free from the shackles of the money-grabbing London policymakers. And yet whilst such statistical exploration was often based on an initial bias, the findings did provide valuable insights into the state of Scotland both now and in the future, independent or not.

  It is fair to say that these days the UK’s wealth distribution graphs bear an unfortunate resemblance to an expiring hour glass. Such has been the inexorable draining of wealth from North to South, that Scotland almost invariably looks like a colourless patch of poverty. And you’ll never be confused by London’s location; it’s always the colourful part, the capital’s affluence packaged in striking bright red lipstick like a dolled up lady of the night.

  But Scotland is certainly not poor. It has the wealth, but probably not the income. Before we go further, let’s look at some statistics. In 2012, during the time that the pro-independence war drums could be heard across the channel, the Scottish government released a report detailing the country’s growing inequality in wealth, at least when measured by assets. It found that 10 percent of households owned 44 percent of all private wealth, whilst, in comparison, half of the least wealthy households in Scotland owned a diminutive nine percent. And more striking still, 17 percent of the country’s overall wealth was shown to be owned by the top two percent.  [1]

  Of course, the purpose of this report was to lend weight to the Yes campaign, with the ultimate suggestion being that Scotland’s potential for prosperity lay outside of union. But Scotland’s problems certainly go deeper than that. In fact, arguably Scotland has a bigger issue with inequality than the rest of the UK.

  Scotland is older; its wealthy families are more numerous, deeply seated, and still very much in the same position they were a hundred years ago. But Scotland is by no means unique in this regard; such divides occur in almost every first world country, with a look at America’s beginnings showing just how damaging the old wealth and new wealth paradigms can be for social progression.

  The county isn’t lacking in wealth or assets, but it does have a low income average across the board, especially when compared to the rest of the UK. Outside of the likes of Edinburgh and Glasgow, the north of Scotland attracts comparatively lower salaries. And neither of these cities have the lucrative industries that make London such an international jewel, either. Basically, Scotland is more vulnerable to the age-old division between those that have and those that do not, with few avenues to bridge the gap. Household wealth has decreased over a six-year period too, with the housing market enjoying only limited growth compared to rest of the UK.  

  The gap is undoubtedly widening. A report by Oxfam in 2013 showed that Scotland’s wealthiest households are 273-times better off than the bottom 10 percent. [2]

  And of course, we’re not discounting the possibility that Scotland’s social and economic policies being anchored to London haven’t had some overall deleterious effects. But that argument has the danger of scapegoating the country’s problems. The poor are scapegoated because they’re lazy, and Westminster is scapegoated because it failed to achieve the impossible task of guaranteeing unilateral equality.

  Looking at a single country is arguably too restrictive to present a complete analysis. There are other factors weighing upon Scotland’s equality, which we’ll look at later on in this series, but there’s also certainly something universal at work, whereby the concoction of capitalism and democracy is, inevitably, furthering inequality, despite efforts to stem the flow.


[1] http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Social-Welfare/IncomePoverty

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-22976909