A Scottish MP has launched a private members bill in the UK Parliament to force English retailers to take Scottish bank notes. He claims that too many English shops question the Scottish notes when they are presented, and that annoys him.

As an ex-retailer of many years, the problem for most English retailers is that the Scottish notes are unusual and quite rare, even if, as I did, you work in a tourist hotspot – so when something odd is presented, you have to be careful to make sure it is a legitimate Scottish note, and not a generic foreign note.

Some Scots used to get quite irate when I had to spend a couple of seconds doing a double take when the note is handed over. Yes – just taking an extra couple of seconds to check what the note is could be enough to cause an outburst from the customer. They just didn’t seem to understand that it was not normal for an English retailer to see these “odd” bits of paper.

However – setting aside the issue of English people recognising the notes – there is a fairly serious issue of law at stake.

In a purely technical definition, legal tender is defined as currency which has to be accepted in payment of a debt. If I go into a shop to buy something, there is no debt to settle and hence, the retailer can accept anything they want in exchange for the goods. Incidentally, meals in a restaurant are different, as there is a debt to be paid after the meal is eaten – so the restaurant is obliged by law to accept Bank of England notes in settlement of the debt.

Hence, English shops can accept Scottish bank notes in exchange for goods and services – if they want to. However, here is the key issue – Scottish bank notes are NOT legal tender (so the above mentioned restaurant is not obliged to accept them).

I know it annoys Scots when presenting notes in England which causes confusion, but it was equally annoying when a Scot would bark at me that the crumpled piece of paper he handed over was perfectly legal. I willing to accept the note, once I checked it was indeed a Scottish note and didn’t appreciate being yelled at by our Scottish cousins.

What the MP seems to have forgotten is that it not the “lack of a law” which is the problem -  it is the rarity of Scottish notes in England which causes the confusion – and passing a law to force retailers to accept them wont actually change that. The law will exist, but shop staff will still come across the occasional Scottish note and think “what on earth is this?”

Maybe if out Scottish friends remembered that an English retailer is not going to be used to handling their bank notes and just relaxed a bit when presenting them in a shop, much angst could be avoided?

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13 Comments

  1. petoskystone

    how can parliment pass a bill forcing retailers to accept what is not legal tender? if scottish notes are not legal tender, can they be given out as change for a bill paid in english notes? if a retailer turns them into a british bank to get notes which s/he can use as change when accepting payment, does the british bank have right of refusal? if a bank *must* accept notes which are not legal tender, does that set up a legal precedent allowing anyone to make up thier own tender for exchange?

  2. IanVisits

    if scottish notes are not legal tender, can they be given out as change for a bill paid in english notes?

    An interesting point.

    If a customer and retailer agree to a transaction and the customer offers to tender with a bank note (or any other agreed payment) which is greater than the value of the goods, then a debt now exists between the two parties.

    In that situation, the customer could refuse to accept anything other than Bank of England notes in settlement of that debt.

    (worth noting if a shop tries to insist on credit vouchers when they have agreed to exchange goods – such as just after xmas)

    Obviously, the legal specifics and practical realities are very different in real life.

    As an aside, many years ago when I casually studied retail law, I recall reading about a court case back in the 1850s where a judge ruled that a retailer is not obliged to offer change back if paid with a paper bank note with a higher face value than the goods purchased.

    I’m not sure if that ruling is still in effect or has been overturned by later laws.

  3. One United Kingdom, One Bank-Note. That’s my simple message. I happen to live in Northern Ireland and we have the same problem with four banks that issue their own notes. It has always been a huge money-spinner for them; that’s the only reason they do it. It’s certainly not for patriotic, nor altruistic, reasons.
    Repeal the Act of Parliament and change the regulation that permits it.

  4. Patrick Cain

    I bet the residents of Northern Ireland will feel put out if English retailers are forced to accept Scottish notes and not NI ones.

    As there’s one passport for the UK, there should be one set of banknotes. I still find it rather odd that Scottish and NI banks can issue their own notes.

    In fact let’s just introduce the euro and avoid the silly system we have now.

  5. I go along with that, Patrick.

  6. Stephen

    I can understand some places not wanting to take Scottish notes, but the one place that really bugged and surprised me was the British Airways shop on Regent’s Street not taking Scottish notes, especially when all I had was a Scottish note in my wallet.

  7. Clive Brown

    I came back from Scotland a couple of years ago with two £1 notes, which are still issued up there by one of the banks. I used one of them at my local club but still have one in my wallet. Caused a bit of confusion when I handed it over!

  8. xini

    Hey, the issue seems more cultural than economic. In Scotland there is no legal Paper Money at all….even Bank of England notes are not legal in Scotland. I think the same applies to Northern Ireland.

    This leaves folk up north thinking historically in a different way about paper money from other parts of the country Scottish banknotes are usually seen as a “promissary note”, its a way of promising payment from the bank to the seller, rather than giving him a legal amount of money at the point of sale. I think thats one of the reasons why some scots get huffy when they are not accepted. It’s like saying your promise of payment is no good … and it’s taken personally. This is especially so when every scot knows that what the note is worth has already been paid to the Bank of England so the bank note could be issued in the first place. Therefore just because it doesn’t say Bank of England on it doesn’t mean it’s not worth anything……The Bank of England already has that amount of money waiting for the seller to claim it. A little bit of education throughout the country would go a long way to solving this problem rather than trying to push stupid laws through parliament.

  9. Will

    As someone who lives in Scotland and works in a shop i must say that when english people ask for English notes because shops down south wont accept them, it does annoy me. We see English notes on a daily basis and even the odd note from the Northern Bank and Bank of Ulster, all of which we accept. As such i find it very difficult to accept the excuse of “not seen it before” as anyone working in a shop for more than a few months would have seen almost all of the currency on these isles. The impression that we have in Scotland is that some people in England simply think of Scotland as a big county and having been fobbed of with a powerless Mickey Mouse parliament, and watching much of our oil and tax money head down south its easy to see why support for nationalism in scotland is growing. I personally dont agree with a seperate Scottish state and would rather move towards timathy’s idea of having one currency but as that seems unlikely anytime soon perhaps it would help ease the tensions if English shop owners would just be gracious enough to accept our money in good faith.

    • IanVisits

      As I mentioned, I worked in shops in a tourist hotspot, and I dout I saw Scottish notes more often than once a month.

      I they are that popular in a tourist trap, how rare are they elsewhere?

      My main contention though was not that the shop refused to take the notes, but that due to their rarity, confusion could occur and people get excessively uptight about it.

      Anyhow, with cash going the way of the Dodo soon, the point will be moot.

  10. Duncan Hill

    The reason you don’t see many Scottish notes in an English tourist hotspot is because most tourists from Scotland know that most English shop staff act funny and say “we don’t accept this foreign stuff” (especially the further south you go), so they are forced to change them for Bank of England notes before travelling.

    I live near London, and am happy to accept any Scottish and Northern Irish notes. After all, they have an equal value, and all banks and post offices accept them.

  11. Alan

    what!
    are we independant & ive missed it,no!…
    we are british,living on british land,therefore said “scottish money!” should be accepted wherever in the uk,no questions asked,regardless if some small town hick rarely sees scottish notes then bleats about getting some,well deserved,abuse!
    the english have lorded us up for centuries & continue to do so today!
    keep seeing “tourist hotspots dont see scottish money!” well maybe the reason is us Scots dont like visiting england,i used to frequent england every other year back when Scotland played the english at football & hated england & the obnoxious people who live there,oh & have too say where did you lot dissapear to when we invaded your country to watch our beloved scots,you would NEVER THINK it was a home game due to the fact there was no english there,why? maybe because you were scared of us,this is 1 of quite a few reasons why the english still dont recognise us & our currency,your a bunch of feardys who always hide behind your fortresses when the Scots invaded(thats been happening for centuries)also us Scots have contributed the most to civilisation than the english,a fact that we are proud of & the english despise!
    you might think im a bit sore with the english?well you’d be right,and the quicker we get our independance the better,maybe not in my lifetime but hopefully for my kids & grandkids,it would be!!

    RULED BY THE ENGLISH FOR TOO LONG,INDEPENDANCE I SAY!!

    • IanVisits

      you might think im a bit sore with the english?

      Well, you went to the trouble of hunting down a 3.5 year old blog post – so at the very least I would suggest some level of determination to have your say on the matter.

      You didn’t address the key issue I raised though – it’s not the legality of the situation, but the simple fact that someone in an English shop rarely sees a Scottish bank note.

      It is lack of familiarity that is the problem – not some tin-foil-hat conspiracy theory against the Scots.

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