THIS week Prince Charles, with riband stars and tinsel show, announced that his mother’s Government would not attempt to cure the cost of living crisis by spending money. Earlier that morning,Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba tweeted an alternative: “In a period of record inflation, private profit should be outlawed. Or aren’t we all in this together?”

As the Prime Minister defended the Prince’s position, the Scottish Conservatives parsed Villalba’s quote, pasted it against a hammer and sickle, and tweeted: “This Scottish Labour MSP is pushing communism”.

Newspapers ran the Tory story, including this one, and soon hundreds came out in support of Villalba’s suggestion.

The froth of Twitter disappears faster than early summer snow falling on a river. But spume on the political sea calls attention to undulating underwater currents. A week after council elections saw a gentle swell for centre-left parties, Villalba’s rhetoric tested the limits of the economic policy debate.

READ MORE: How Better Together councils impacted Labour in the eyes of voters

First, a word or two about outlawing private profit. Tories call it communist, and certainly abolishing profit through collectivising or nationalising property is communist. As any pedant would observe, without private profit, we would not need to legally proscribe it. An alternative policy is not communist but socialist: to place on private income drawn from corporate profits a tax of 100%. This is not simply an income tax rise, or a corporation tax rise, but an excess profits tax.

The idea of taxing excessive income from profits tends to surface during times of economic crisis and inflation, in wartime situations, and in depressions. Such tax can prevent opportunistic exploitation of people by private interests that are adept at manipulating shifts in precarious labour and consumer markets.

The idea of an 100% tax is an old one with a particular Scottish pedigree. In the 1760s, in the wake of a war in Europe that shrunk the economy of Scotland and put it at the mercy of foreign commerce, the idea entered the mind of one pioneer of political economy, the Jacobite James Steuart. Steuart imagined a government that “let the land-tax be imposed at twenty shillings in the pound” (there are only twenty shillings in a pound) and the “income of all the lands be collected throughout the country for the use of the state”. He had in mind something like the setup in ancient Sparta, a “republic [with] a perfect plan of political economy” whose citizens earned no superfluous incomes.

Almost two centuries later, the socialist and nationalist writer Naomi Mitchison was similarly enchanted by Spartan society, describing its redistributive revolution in her 1931 novel The Corn King and the Spring Queen. An active Labour party member, and married to a Labour MP, Mitchison was friends with socialists in the Labour party and SNP-forerunner the National Party of Scotland.

Radical tax demands also found parliamentary expression long before the Scottish Parliament was restored. In 1886 Robert Bontine Cunninghame-Graham was elected in North-West Lanarkshire as the first socialist MP in the UK Parliament. An advocate of heavily graduated tax and a suite of other radical demands, he was asked in the House of Commons whether he preached “pure unmitigated Socialism”.

He replied: “Undoubtedly”. Cunninghame-Graham was a founder of both the Labour party and of the National Party of Scotland. Like Mitchison, he thought the constitutional situation of Scotland held potent opportunities for enacting socialist policies that seemed farfetched in London.

In 1973, Denis Healy raised tax to 83% and allegedly said he wished to “squeeze the rich until the pips squeak”. He was on the right of the British Labour party at a time when the left-wing Tony Benn demanded even higher taxes. Today, socialist tax policy remains mainstream not marginal in the ranks of the labour movement. At marches and rallies in the first two weekends in May, most union speakers expressed the aspiration for drastic revenue raises in response to the crisis. It was time, STUC president Pauline Rourke told the Edinburgh rally, to share out the “vast profits being made”.

“Now is not the time for us to show restraint, now is the time for us to get angry and galvanised”.

If the idea of a socialist state raising massive revenues gets blood flowing, the hidden heart of this debate is about powers in Scotland. While the SNP are too cautious to talk about how they would use the full powers of independence, others, including many in the Labour party, will explore the options for an economically sovereign Scotland. For what it’s worth, here is one possibility.

Imagine, in a future inflationary crisis, that an independent government introduced a tax of 100p on every pound of private profit, with enforcement and consequences for those who evaded the law. This 100% tax would raise huge revenues to invest in work and incomes for all people in Scotland. Of course, it would cause a judder in the structure and landscape of the nation and the response to that change would have to be written carefully into law as well. The law might lay out exceptions and exemptions to make it economically and socially sound. Maybe where the income from profit was shown to be equivalent to a salary or wage, it would be exempt from tax up to a certain level. Maybe the law would also introduce a Luxury Wage, an upper-equivalent of a Living Wage, that sets a standard of income based on a package of goods above which wealth is considered superfluous.

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While extracting profits from large corporations will do little direct harm to anyone, it is possible that small business and their owners would suffer. Maybe small or medium sized companies would have profit tax relief if they could demonstrate that all employees and contractors earned a decent wage; or if that company set wages at a rate negotiated through collective bargaining with unions.

Companies could simply pay well, or recognise a union, as an alternative to the 100% profit tax targeting large businesses. A similar exemption might be made where profits were demonstrably being spent on capital or other costs necessary for increasing employment at fair pay. In addition to these exemptions, maybe the government would legislate for a system of profit-tax relief, for those richer and middle-income folk whose lives will be clearly and adversely affected by the new tax.

It might sound imaginary, maybe even illusory. But with language and colour and rhetoric this kind of proposal could bring new dynamics to Scotland’s chambers. The Conservative clamour would be endless: it would fuel inflation, disincentivise work and business and ruin the reputation of the economy. All of these arguments are as old as the ocean, but so too are the arguments in favour.