Bank Notes and Legal Tender

In England, where I currently live, all valid legal tender banknotes in pounds sterling are printed by the Bank of England. Technically, English banknotes are only valid legal tender in England and Wales, not actually in Scotland or Northern Ireland, but yet I’ve never come across anywhere in the UK where the recognised authenticity of current English banknotes has ever been questioned or the notes themselves refused as payment for something.

In Scotland, however, where I grew up, three different banks print valid banknotes in pounds sterling – the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Clydesdale Bank. Technically, none of these notes are legal tender anywhere, yet these Scottish printed banknotes are all UK Parliament approved, are all legitimate UK pounds sterling currency and are therefore all a perfectly acceptable way to pay for goods and services and other such everyday monetary transactions across the Union.

In Scotland it is perfectly normal to have any varied combination of these four different types of banknotes in your wallet at any given time – from the three Scottish banks and also from the Bank of England – with all of them unquestionably being considered interchangably to be valid legal currency. But we manage to survive very well without the existence of any valid legal tender banknotes, thank you very much. I’ve never been to Northern Ireland, but I imagine it is pretty much the same there with their own printed banknotes.

But, conversely, try to spend any Scottish or Northern Irish money here in England, and expect to be treated like a fraudulent criminal trying to pass dodgy money and in most cases have your perfectly legitimate pounds sterling banknotes refused and shunned with disdain. It seems that here in England, to many people, only English money counts as authentic UK currency because only Bank of England notes are ‘valid legal tender’ – so everything else is either considered to be ‘foreign’ or ‘fake’.

There are, of course, always those enlightened few English businesses who are willing to recognise that the bottom line is that pounds sterling is pounds sterling is pounds sterling and will accept valid currency notes other than those issued by the Bank of England, but personally I don’t even bother trying to spend my Scottish money here in London – I keep it until I go home again for a visit, and simply spend it in Scotland.

I do appreciate that businesses here in England are under no legal obligation to accept Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes, but the all too frequent looking-down-the-nose small-mindedness and petty arrogance of it all does annoy me at times. What it tells Scottish people like me is that although we may on paper be part of a United Kingdom, we are certainly not equitable partners in that union, and that in England maintaining all things exclusively English matters far more than extending a trusting hand of kinship to your nearest neighbours.

Part of the ongoing trouble seems to arise from this phrase ‘legal tender’, a much bandied about term in law which actually has very little practical meaning when carrying out everyday transactions. Throughout the UK, Royal Mint coins are legal tender, but confusingly banknotes have different status depending on which UK country you are in. Technically, paying by cheque or debit card or credit card (or presumably a phone app) is not deemed to be ‘valid legal tender’ either, but few businesses in England seem to have a problem with accepting those methods of concluding a transaction?

Obviously none of this has stopped me happily living and working in the international melting-pot that is London for the last 16 years, but it’s just an ever-present little niggle in the background – the constant questioning of the authenticity of Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes simply on the grounds that they are not valid legal tender (although they are valid UK currency) while simultaneously accepting something far more questionable like a contactless payment via a mobile phone – that never fails to irritate me…

PS If anything in my little rant here is factually incorrect, my apologies – I’m neither a banker nor a lawyer, just a poor wee Scots lass trying to make sense of being considered British in one sense but decidedly non-English in another! 🙂

Daily Prompt: Authentic


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