I got a bit cross on a plane the other day. Only a little bit cross, mind you. I’m always wary of angering a stewardess too much, in case she decides to open the hatch and send me plummeting to my death at 30,000 feet - or worse, lock me up in the airport prison with all of those people who have drunk too much on a Ryanair flight.
The reason for my anger was that she refused to accept my money. My Scottish money.
I was on a flight from continental Europe to London and wanted a coffee. I’d run down my foreign currency, but had two crisp Scottish fivers in my purse. An announcement earlier had told me that both Euros and “pounds Sterling” were accepted. No problem then, I thought.
But the stewardess wasn’t impressed. She stared at my note. She turned it every which way. At one point, I thought she might bite into it in a bid to check its authenticity.
“No,” she said eventually. “I can’t accept this, I’m sorry.”
I argued for its validity, I pointed out it was sterling. I even, at one point - even though I knew it was an urban myth - muttered the words “legal tender” in an attempt to sway her.
It had no effect. It was company policy, she explained. Nothing she could do. She had been told not to accept Scottish money, period.
I had to give up and pay by debit card. For, you see, I have no legal right to pay with Scottish banknotes, even somewhere that accepts “pounds Sterling”. Legal tender, despite all of the talk surrounding the phrase, does not mean what most peole think it does.
In fact, it only applies in regard to a legal debt - a court order - and only in England. In Scotland, we do not have legal tender at all and we seem to manage quite nicely.
What’s more, no shop ever has to sell you anything, regardless of the money you are offering.
That aside, Scottish pounds are worth exactly the same as English pounds - and no retailer is out of pocket by accepting either, as long as they are genuine.
Still smarting from my in-air experience, I wasn’t surprised to hear of a similar incidence south of the border just this week.
A McDonald’s franchisee had banned staff at his ten restaurants in the Lincolnshire area from accepting banknotes manufactured by the three Scottish banks: Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank.
The reason, his workers were told, was that he had been suffering from an increasing amount of counterfeiting. Many of the Scottish notes which had been passed over his counter to pay for goods turned out to be frauds. Presumably, scammers target English shops with Scottish notes, assuming, quite rightly, that they are unfamiliar with the appearance of the authentic version and are more likely to be accepted.
Granted, many shop assistants in England will, never before, have seen a Scottish bank note. Many workers may not be English themselves, and as, relative newcomers to the country, could quite possibly be unaware that Scotland (and `Northern Ireland) even has different notes.
Usually, however, someone in the store, or restaurant will be familiar with the concept. And if it is, indeed, such an unusual occurrence, it really won’t cost the firm too much time in productivity for the cashier to spend five seconds checking it with a more experienced colleague.
I don’t believe that there was any anti-Scottish sentiment behind the McDonald’s franchisee’s decision to ban Scottish notes - it was purely a business decision made out of fear that he would be out of pocket if his staff were unable to detect if a note was counterfeit. My advice would be for him to buy one of those little pens which can tell if a note is genuine or not. Selling for £1.66 on Staples’ website.
However, what is most interesting about all of this is that Scottish shops also do not have to accept English notes. I wasn’t sure about this point, so I checked with my friends at the Committee of Scottish Bankers and they confirmed that indeed, the same could apply in Scotland as it regularly does in England.
It just doesn’t. Just like everyone in Britain understands what “sidewalk” means, but any American would look at you askance if you uttered the word “pavement”, our shopkeepers are quite familiar enough with English banknotes to not be too worried about identifying a counterfeit version - even if their counterparts south of the border cannot do the opposite.
Having said that, my husband, who is from Northern Ireland, still refuses to grace a certain St Andrews sandwich shop with his patronage, after they refused to accept an Ulster Bank £20 note nearly two decades ago. Cherries, you have no idea how much cash you have missed out on over the years.
The fact is that whether Scots or Northern Irish, we can do nothing about it. We are powerless. And it is just plain stupid and behind the times. Put simply, it is a lack of education.
Even former Prime Minister David Cameron once backed a campaign to inform English retailers that Scottish banknotes were just as acceptable a form of payment as English ones. Boris Johnson too, having written to Transport for London to remind them “that Scottish bank notes are legal tender” after receiving an email from a disgruntled Scots visitor.
He was wrong of course - its not legal tender. But the sentiment was there.
Companies too should educate their staff about all of the money in the British Isles - not just the most common version.
And meanwhile, Scots, by power of example, should continue to accept English notes as we always have done. Doing anything else would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Money is money, after all and we might as well be the ones laughing all the way to the (royal) bank.