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By Jason Michael
It’s just another Scottish experience of England. We’re the ones always being tarred with the brush of being Anglophobic, but besides from being called “Jock” – all in good fun of course – and being told to “fuck off back to Scotland,” there’s the reoccurring theme of our Scottish banknotes not being accepted in shops and restaurants south of the border. In the past, I’ll admit, I didn’t pay much attention to this. It was simply one of those things; an inconvenience more than an act of anti-Scottish hostility, like Scottish banknotes weren’t somehow proper currency in England.
Our relations with England have been seriously tested in the past few years with the growth of the independence movement here and the tensions caused by the attitudinal differences exposed by Brexit between us and the English. Scotland’s treatment at the hands of the British media in England and the palpable shift in English public opinion towards us – as a result of being informed Scottish independence is all about Scots hating them – have caused many of us to reflect on our historical, cultural, and national experiences of England. Our money and our familiarity with it being snubbed at English checkouts is one of these things we have been thinking about.
If @GreggsOfficial will not accept Scottish money in England then we will boycott Greggs in Scotland. We will not give them our money.—
Butterfly Rebellion (@Butterfly_Reb) July 05, 2017
Greggs (@GreggsOfficial) July 05, 2017
Recently Greggs the bakers and Spar have gotten into hot water over individual stores’ management and members of staff turning Scottish banknotes away. In the past this irked us, but we dealt with it. That’s all over now. We have Twitter and Facebook accounts, we’re connected with hundreds of thousands of online independentistas, and we’re a wee bit more militant these days. Our money gets inspected, snorted at, and rejected at a gift shop in London and we go ape. We don’t go all Begbie. That’s so nineties. We get a snap of the poorly spelled, handwritten sign in the window, attach it to a vicious, but hilariously worded tweet, and press send.
Before you know it half of Scotland – the good half that is – is up in arms. Companies’ head offices in Harrow, Middlesex are bombarded with wave upon wave of – to them – near unintelligible angry twitterings in broad Scots calling for a boycott and demanding apologies. It works. This week both Greggs and Spar were forced to issue apologies for the actions of their staff in England, but here’s the law: (keep this to yourselves) Scottish banknotes are not legal tender in England and English retailers are under no obligation to accept them. But here’s the thing, Scottish banknotes are not legal tender in Scotland either, and neither are English and Northern Irish banknotes. Scotland doesn’t do “legal tender.” It never has. We function quite well without that legal idea.
In saying that our notes aren’t legal tender, however, is not to say that our money isn’t good. Scottish banknotes are still sterling and have the same monetary value north and south of the Tweed. Accepting it in England is a matter of courtesy rather than law, and its rejection speaks more to a sense of a pecking order where Scotland is beneath England. That, more than any legal issue, is what underlies this problem we have with our money in England; we, rather than our cash per se, are not seen as equal members of England’s Britain. Refusing to take our banknotes is nothing more than a means of demonstrating this prejudice.
That this is prejudice is something that will be strenuously denied by the very people who refuse to accept Scottish money in England, offering reasonable explanations about their customers’ reluctance to take it. What they don’t realise is that this only proves the freaking point. Aren’t we meant to be a union of equals, where our English neighbours would be heartbroken to see us leave? Could they not begin to show some of this great and deep affection by accepting our money? We’ve been in this union of equals for a few centuries. It can’t be that difficult, but somehow it still is.
What’s the answer to this? Obviously this is something we have to take on and win for ourselves. Left uncontested this is a problem that will continue, and none of us really want this to go on. It’s unpopular and people are rightly wary of it, but I am in favour of a policy of boycotting. We know the counter arguments; that this will only hurt employees of these companies in Scotland. It will, but in reality it won’t. Capitalism doesn’t work like that. Profit – even in English head offices – trumps the prejudice and bigotry of these companies’ employees. If we are prepared to commit ourselves to a series of directly punitive and well-publicised boycotts then these companies will begin the process of educating their staff. We have to learn how to show them that this lack of courtesy is unacceptable, that if our money is not good enough for them in England it will be denied to them in Scotland too.
Our banknotes, like other signifiers of our cultural identity, are symbols of our nationhood – this is soft nationalism; the pride we take in things Scottish. Our movement has been wrapped up in a lot of symbols, and this is no bad thing, but with ScotRef now in our hands we have to be thinking of making the serious transition from symbolism to action. We’re at the point of symbolic saturation. More flags isn’t going to translate into more supporters or forward movement. It is time, as I see it, that independence thinking becomes independence agitation. We can start with the money thing.
Danny Bhoy – Scottish Money