Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sterling Efforts

Another story from the slow, festive news period was the synthetic outrage from the Lib Dems, as they learned that Scottish Bank notes were not legal tender in England. Stop the press! Hold the front page! Lib Dems pick fight with London shock!

You have to wonder where the Lib Dems have been, though. Scottish banknotes have never been ‘legal tender’ - that which is acceptable in settlement of a debt - even in Scotland. In fact, not even Bank of England notes are classed as being ‘legal tender’ in Scotland.

That said, the term ‘legal tender’ doesn’t have any influence over the acceptability or otherwise of bank notes as a means of exchange between interested parties. It really comes down to whether or not you have confidence in being able to redeem the note for its stated value, and therefore continue to enjoy the ‘double coincidence of wants’ which bank notes are supposed to provide.

Everyone has their own horror story to tell about a surly London cabbie refusing to take Scottish notes, many of which I dare say grow a bit in the telling. As it happens, most places in the centre of London are quite happy to take any kind of note you proffer. Vending machines can be a bit temperamental, although that applies every bit as much in my experience to many of those installed in Scotland too.

My only outright refusal to accept Scottish notes came a few months ago from a Polish barman in deepest, darkest Beckenham (Kent commuter land), who complained very obnoxiously about my ‘funny money’. He then became particularly aggressive when I then enquired if his refusal to accept my money meant that the already poured pints in front of me were therefore free. However, with a wee bit of initiative, you can sometimes make it work both ways.

Flying out of Muscat Airport a few years ago, I had a wallet-full of Omani Rials, which I didn’t fancy trying to get changed back in Scotland. The guy at the Bureau de Change obviously recognised my Scottish accent, and knowing the reluctance of some English people to accept Scottish notes, pronounced with regret that the only Sterling notes he had were Clydesdale Bank twenties.

Primed from a few days bargaining in the various Souks, I sucked on my teeth, shook my head and told him that I didn’t get such a good exchange rate for Clydesdale notes when I took them back home. To which he smiled, offered them to me commission free and agreed to round the transaction up in my favour. Sold!

Sure, it’s annoying when Scottish notes get knocked back. Yes, people outside Scotland should be better aware that these are also sterling notes and yes, sometimes we need to be more assertive than we might feel comfortable with to get them accepted. This is hardly a new phenomenon, but it’s going to take more than a publicity-seeking Lib Dem spokesman to ensure Scottish banknotes get the recognition and acceptance they deserve.


Bill said...

Although we're on the opposite side of the fence in Scotland's politics, I thought this was a very reasonable entry (as, of course, as most of your posts).

I was first brought face to face with the phenomenon of Scottish banknotes not being accepted soon after I joined the bank I worked for in London, shortly before decimalisation (yes, it was that long ago, sigh). After returning to London from a holiday at home in Scotland I wanted to deposit my surplus notes and was told I could be credited only 19/6 in the pound. Outrage! As a management trainee I complained loudly to the manager who looked after us and they capitulated and gave me full credit. However, that was a one off because I was such a 'bolshie' young man ;)

Years later when I was managing a branch in a middle eastern country (bizarrely enough, Oman), it was whenb there was competition to acquire RBS and we were instructed by our Head Office (in HK) to accept Scottish bank-notes on the same basis/rate as English bank-notes. That policy, I'm sad to say, lasted only until our take-over bid was rejected by the Edinburgh political nomenklatura. Now I always travel with some Scottish bank-notes, but make sure I have some English notes as back-up; I rarely have problems, although of course normally most things are paid for with plastic now, so it's largely academic.

Jeff said...

Nice job with the Omani dollars!

I do wonder though if your tongue would be quite so acerbic if it had been the SNP rather than the Lib Dems that were championing this cause.

Of course there are bigger fish to fry out there but Scottish notes being of equal value to English notes is well worth fighting for and the Lib Dems should be commended if they are taking this up. (I've not actually heard that they are. Funny, it's not like the Lib Dems to fade into the background and border on irrelevance, ahem....)

Anyway, I wonder if you think Alex Neil was showing "synthetic outrage" when he was quoted as saying:

"It is outrageous Scots are getting less for their money.

This is discrimination against Scotland and is completely unacceptable."


Richard Thomson said...

Yeah, OK Jeff. I admit, I'm teasing the Lib Dems a bit here. Maybe if they had a stronger track record on this issue I'd have taken it a bit more seriously. As it was, the chance to turn the tables and accuse them of picking a fight with 'London' was just too good to resist :-)

Thanks for the kind words, Bill. When I was about 16 (some years before 16 year olds could get credit/debit cards routinely), I remember buying a CD at a pertol station on the Dutch/German border using RBS notes. The CD cost 25 Guilders, and after agreeing with the cashier that a pound was worth roughly 2.5 guilders, we had a deal.

Now, like you, I mainly use plastic. My Cashline card works in ATMs all over the world and where my main credit card won't for whatever reason 'do nicely', everyone accepts Visa. Even, I'm pleased to report, bad tempered barstaff in Beckenham.

Richard Havers said...

Richard, in the Cabbies handbook it says they do not have to accept Scottish notes. I've had it thrust under my nose before.

p.s. Post independence - not that I think it'll happen :) what will the currancy be?

Richard Thomson said...

Richard - on day one of an independent Scotland, regardless as to who was in power, the currency in circulation would be Sterling. While the SNP wants eventual entry into the Euro, that would have to be subject to a referendum.

If people voted to join the Euro (under the SNP or not), then subject to meeting the conditions associated with that, the Euro we would then adopt. If people voted against, then we'd continue to use Sterling.

Richard Havers said...

One of the things that is going to be fascinating in all this independence malarkey is how the referendums are going to be worded and on what criteria they will be either won or lost, agreed or not.

It seems to me that this may well be the political minefields to end all minefields.

Alwyn ap Huw said...

Whenever I go to Scotland for a holiday I always make sure that I return with a couple of hundred pounds worth of Scottish fivers, so that I can have a "Bank of England" free period in the local pubs and shops.

I have never encountered any difficulty in spending them here. The only grumbles I have ever had have been related to the £1 notes, but that's just because local tills no longer have a compartment for pound notes.