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 -Â 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?