I can’t take his money … I can’t print my own money … I have to work for money … Why don’t I just lay down and die? — Homer Simpson, The Simpsons
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During our trip to Scotland, we were made aware (by some proud Scots) of the fact that the country prints its own currency. In fact, three major banks in Scotland all print bills: The Clydesdale Bank, The Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Bank of Scotland (un-Royal). For all intents and purposes, the Scottish bills should have the same value (and exchange rate) as the English pound-notes that are also accepted throughout Scotland.

I say should, because in practice things tend to be a bit different.

One of our Scottish hosts proudly displayed some bills to us (the source of the pride being that the bills were Scottish), explaining that on more than one occasion proprietors in England had attempted to refuse the currency.

Don’t let world spread about this, because there is no way that the red states would accept a Californey quarter if they thought they had a choice.

But let’s get down to what the heck is going on with Scotland and the U.K., shall we? I found the whole thing incredibly confusing, and when you find that Wikipedia is the best source on the subject, it’s time to curl up in a ball and admit that the whole thing is effed up.

Here’s my understanding of it. If anyone knows any more about the issue, please feel free to jump in. Let’s start with legal tender.

To quote Rand, “legal tender is not what you think it is.” Personally, I had thought that legal tender was, well, legal money. As long as you didn’t print it in your basement, and ol’ George doesn’t have the gout, I figured it was legal tender. Apparently, this isn’t the case.

In fact, legal tender actually has a very narrow definition that pertains to the settlement of debts. It is an offered payment that cannot be legally refused in the settlement of a debt. It really has very little do with whether or not a form of payment is against the law or not (for example, debit cards, credit cards, and personal checks are widely accepted everywhere, but according to this definition, they are not legal tender).

Scottish notes are also not considered legal tender anywhere in the U.K. Not even in Scotland. So they can’t be used to repay debts, apparently, but instead function more as a promissory note (i.e., I am giving you this bill, which has the value of 5 pounds sterling, or whatever). In fact, no banknotes (not even those from the Bank of England) are accepted as legal tender in Scotland. Which I imagine would make it very hard to repay a debt.

But just because the Scottish bills aren’t legal tender doesn’t mean they aren’t legal. The banks in Scotland that print their own notes  have the right to do so as dictated by Parliament. The money is legal – and while technically people can refuse it in payment of a debt, most don’t.

Here’s where it gets tricky: if you are buying something in the U.K., the store must accept Scottish bills as payment. But if you have already received services from an establishment (as in, they served you a meal or gave you a cab ride) and you are in debt to them, they can then refuse Scottish bills, as they are not legal tender.

Sounds ridiculous, right? But according to one of our Scottish hosts, this has happened to him, and he basically told the waitstaff that it was either Scottish money or they weren’t getting paid at all, and they eventually caved and took the bill. He said that he had encountered the same thing with cabbies.

When we got to London, Rand asked a cab driver if he would accept Scottish currency. He said that generally he would, but some drivers wouldn’t on the grounds that their other passengers wouldn’t accept it back in the form of change. So while they recognized it’s value, it still created problems.

Sigh. The worst part, though, was that we found that internationally some currency exchange places will give you a different (worse) rate for Scottish bills than for English ones.  The matter has understandably upset a lot of Scottish tourists overseas.

Bottom line? Scotland’s money has the same value as British money. It just isn’t always easy to convince people of it.

Full list of categories:  Lost in Translation » Somewhat Useful Info » WTF
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Comments (20)

  1. 1
    Rob Chant says:

    Interesting stuff. I’ve never had a Scottish note refused, but I have had some funny looks in England with them (I’m English, but my parents live in Scotland so I can Scottish money when I’m up there).

    Interestingly, they have a contact in Sweden who they buy traditional rye bread from, and they have to send him cash (he’s old school). His bank will accept English notes, but claim never to have heard of the Scottish ones! Apparently there’s a big book all banks have that show all the different bank notes of the world, but the Scottish ones don’t appear.

  2. 2
    jamie says:

    I think that the main reason that we English don’t like to except Scottish money is because we can’t tell if its fake or not. There was a scam a couple of years ago that capitalized on this uncertainty. Its very rare that you will get one in England but if you do just take it to a high street bank and they will change it for you like for like.

  3. 3
    Mike Perron says:

    That’s why when I’m abroad, I always carry pounds and pounds of English pennies. “Oh, you don’t want my Scottish notes? Then please accept this legal and really f*cking heavy tender”.

  4. 4
    Matt Taylor says:

    I like your explanation of the whole Scottish currancy thing, a lot of which i didn’t know. There is a slightly simpler reason why some English people (businesses especially) aren’t keen on Scottish notes that i came across while working in a English bank. In England forgeries of Scottish notes are easier to pass off than those of English notes as fewer people know how to spot a fake one and so it puts English people off accepting them in case they are fake. People are afraid to tke the loss i guess. Having said that i worked in a bank for 2 years and saw very few fake Scottish notes compared to the amount of fake English notes.

  5. 5
    Andrew Steel says:

    Always reminded of this sketch by English comedian Michael McIntyre when people talk about our (Scottish) money as not being accepted –

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1j31AnF1zs

    Enjoy!

  6. 6

    I was in Scotland over the summer and could not believe the Scottish currency situation. Three backs each print their own currency and it is not accepted in the UK. Is that the most absurd thing ever. Do the Brits really say, “Yes Scotland, you are part of us, but we don’t accept your currency. Weird!

    With all the wacky money rules, Scotland is an Awesome place to visit. Edinburgh rocks!

  7. 7
    jim says:

    An interesting distinction but I wonder if the whole thing comes down to pride more than anything. I’ve never had a problem spending either in either area and people told me that you can walk into a bank and get it changed without incident.

  8. 8

    I can’t imagine not wanting to take it – it’s such colorful, pretty money. It makes our boring old green money look so dull.

  9. 9

    One reason I saw for rejecting the money (besides counterfeiting, which one must admit is totally valid) is that a lot of immigrants who are new to the U.K. are unfamiliar with the whole concept of Scottish money – and believe that someone might be trying to pull a fast one on them – so they reject the currency.

    • 9.1
      Russell Dornan says:

      There are ways of identifying counterfeit money (for example, special pens) that work regardless of whether it’s English or Scottish money. There’s no excuse to point blank refuse any currency as long as it’s Sterling and is not counterfeit.

      I have often had my Scottish money questioned/refused in England (not EVERY time) and on none of those occasions was potential fraud a reason for it. I’m happy for people to check my notes are real; they don’t care about that. It’s pure ignorance (which isn’t necessarily the individual’s fault, rather the manager/company needs to train its staff).

  10. 10

    It’s no wonder that back in England, no one will change the bills for you!
    FMaggi

  11. 11
    Max Johnson says:

    The further South you are, the more problems you will get. The main reason for non-acceptance is, as has been said, is the danger of forgeries. If you’re going to forge stuff it’s obviously a sensible strategy to forge things that people aren’t too familiar with. Another reason could be that there is very strong national antagonism between a minority of English and Scottish people. (Scotland already has a devolved government and might soon leave the UK altogether, sadly and unwisely IMHO).
    I live in the village of Heysham in North Lancashire (in Northern England), and Scottish notes are not common, but are quite comfortably part of the currency here. They wouldn’t be questioned.

    • 11.1
      Everywhereist says:

      Max – I had also heard that it was mostly the cabbies who didn’t accept the currency, and the reason was that they couldn’t give it back to passengers as change (because a lot of them wouldn’t accept it). So it’s mostly an uninformed thing on their end.

  12. 12
    Jen says:

    I just like its “notes” and not bills. Sounds so much more civilized and polite.

  13. 13
    Russell Dornan says:

    Can I just say one thing:

    Scotland is part of the U.K. and Great Britain. So PLEASE stop saying ‘British’ and ‘U.K’ when, in fact, you mean English/England. It’s incredibly ignorant. Scots are Brits too. Scottish money IS accepted in the U.K. because Scotland is part of the U.K. (and the money IS accepted, much to some people’s chagrin, in the REST of the U.K.). The ‘United Kingdom’ refers to the Kingdoms of Scotland and England united several hundred years ago, as agreed by both.

    The money issue is irritating enough without people incorrectly using well-defined terms.

    On a lighter note, when working with money in the U.K the general rule is: if the note says ‘Sterling’ on it, it’s ‘legal’ (as Scottish and Northern Irish money does, for example). Interestingly, English money does not have this printed on it.

    • 13.1
      Everywhereist says:

      Russell –

      My entire point is that while Scottish money SHOULD be accepted throughout the REST OF THE U.K., that is not always the case as a lot of cab drivers refuse it, even though it’s illegal for them to do so.

      Also, I’ve tried referring to Scots as Brits. It did not go over well. The ones I met made it clear that they preferred the term Scot.

      • 13.1.1
        Russell Dornan says:

        That’s a personal thing. That still doesn’t mean that British includes everyone but Scots. Many Welsh and English people don’t like referring to themselves as British either. Does that mean no one’s British?

        My point was directed at people above saying things like “Britain doesn’t accept Scottish notes”: Scotland is part of Britain (the name of the island we’re on) and there’s no denying that.

        I agree with you, don’t get me wrong. I’m just sick of people using the word British when they mean English. It happens ALL the time. As in British people = bowler hats, plummy accents, grey weather, uptight, posh. Obviously it’s a ridiculous sterotype but Scottish people have their own ridiculous sterotype, lol.

  14. 14
    Duncan Hill says:

    “the country prints its own currency” and “Scotland’s money has the same value as British money”

    No, three Scottish banks print British sterling banknotes. The “country” doesn’t have its own currency. Scottish banknotes ARE British money.

    “if you are buying something in the U.K., the store must accept Scottish bills as payment.”

    They don’t have to, but it makes sense to. It might not be “legal tender”, but it’s legal currency. Outside Scotland, it’s only a few awkward businesses that don’t accept them, normally because of ignorance or racism.

  15. 15
    Segedunum says:

    What an amazing level of ignorance, bad spelling and bad grammar exhibited in this conversation.

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