Artillery Row

Why the Government should ban Scottish banknotes

Scottish banknotes foster the illusion that Scexit would be easy – that couldn’t be further from the truth

I used to be fond of Scottish banknotes. I enjoyed the banter with London cabbies who refused to take them. As a child growing up in Scotland, I was proud of their Scottishness that differentiated us from our bigger neighbour. I liked their quirkiness and the very British anomaly that the Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank have, for arcane historical reasons, a licence to print money (the origin of the expression).

Scottish banknotes foster the illusion that Scexit would be easy

But now I would dearly love to abolish them. There comes a point when an anachronism ceases to be amusing, when it really matters. And it does matter now because, just as the future of Great Britain as we have known it for the last 300 years starts to hang in the balance, Scottish banknotes foster the illusion that Scexit would be easy. Nationalists speak breezily of Scotland’s prosperity once we are free of the shackles of Westminster. When probed on the weakness of their case, they say that if they find themselves short of cash, “We will just print it.” They talk about Scottish pounds as if they are “a thing”. They feel entitled to keep the pound after separation because, “It’s oor poond.” These are dangerous fallacies.

Besides, everyone knows that RBS is bust, dead, deceased, passed on, no more, ceased to be, expired and gone to see its maker, bereft of life – an ex-bank. And the fact that the banknote is worth anything at all is because the British taxpayer stood behind RBS when it went tits-up in 2008 along with its counterpart the Bank of Scotland (which now exists merely as a brand within Lloyds). It is no more a bank now than the British Linen Bank, which the Bank of Scotland itself acquired in 1969. The Clydesdale Bank had ceased to exist as an independent entity long before that and is now part of Virgin Money.

Scotland does not have a genuine banking sector anymore. It went West in the banking crash (under the supervision of a certain Scottish Chancellor, but let’s not go there). The relationship manager at my bank – when the job title still meant something – told me that the three Scottish banks would never have their brands absorbed by their parent banks as the licence to print money is seen as great advertising. So they continue to pose as real banks with real reserves on Scottish high streets and the illusion is linked to the licence.

If the prime minister is serious about saving the Union, he should embrace the doctrine of Unity rather than Unionism

By supreme irony, the chief proponent of the SNP’s economic policy post-Scexit, if it ever happened, is none other than Andrew Wilson, who was formerly Fred “the Shred” Goodwin’s right-hand man at the Royal Bank of Scotland. We all saw how the hubris of the bank’s financial projections worked out when the proverbial hit the fan in 2008. It didn’t end well. Wilson’s Charlotte Street Partners pump out rosy predictions about how we Scots, currently part of a G7 nation, might aspire to be a prosperous country like, er, Denmark… after, ahem, a generation. “Charlatan Street” came up with the wheeze of using “Sterlingisation” to transition to a new Scottish currency as a compromise to hide the gaping lacuna in the SNP’s plans for a currency post-independence – a policy that has since been rubbished by most respectable economists.

As a dairy farmer with a large bank loan in Sterling I take a dim view of the separatists who would make me one day attempt to keep up the loan payments in a different, probably devalued currency. And, as an Army pensioner who is ten years away from a state pension, I do not want to spend my declining years worrying about where the money to pay my pensions is to come from while the separatists fumble their way to those Danish uplands.

The Alliance for Unity has pressed the government to pass a Canada-style Clarity Act to provide greater transparency and remove any grey areas, so that it is less likely my countrymen will sleepwalk into a disastrous Scexit. Clarification of banknotes would be a good first step. If the prime minister is serious about saving the Union, he should embrace the doctrine of Unity rather than Unionism. He should rename the Bank of England: The Bank of Britain – it was founded by a Scot after all – and insist that there should only be British banknotes. They could, as Bank of England £20 notes already do, have Adam Smith, Scotland’s greatest economist, on the back.

Jamie Blackett is leader of the Alliance for Unity

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