Monday, November 06, 2006

The £20 note Debate Continues

The media and blog debate continues on the new ‘English’ £20 note, the legal tender for all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, schedued next year to carry an image of Adam Smith. In a surprisingly extremely well-written and erudite blog by someone called ‘Diamond Geezer’, which is worth a visit by you for its content (visit: we have:

“Londoners of Note

Since 1970, a total of twelve famous people have graced the back of the banknotes issued by the Bank of England. It's a very exclusive list. And, with one exception, each of these people lived in London for at least some of their life. So I've been out to track down these noteworthy celebrities, to see where they lived, worked and/or died. Join me this week on the trail of twelve Londoners of note.

And so far everyone has been English (although the surprise choice of Scottish economist Adam Smith for the £20 note from next spring breaks the pattern).”

But in the comments section we have the familiar ‘little Englander’s (another nutter) voice: “Why should the English have Scots on their banknotes?”

Adam Smith qualifies as a resident and regular visitor to London to see his publisher, to meet with cabinet ministers and Prime Ministers, and other dignitaries, plus the famous celebrities of his day. He enjoyed good company and mixed well, his spats with Dr Johnson notwithstanding (they argued over the grammatical meaning of the word ‘But’ – from such precision great minds cannot tolerate other great minds who pine to differ).

He also observed while in London, from a purely philosophical interest, the healthy looks of ‘the most beautiful women perhaps in the British dominions’ who were from ‘the lowest ranks of people in Ireland’ and who ‘live by prostitution’ (WN I.xi.b.41: p 177). Note the typical high scholar’s use of ‘perhaps’ in cases where his sample may not have been large enough to forego a qualifier; high-class research indeed, calling, no doubt, for the closest possible examination of the sources of his data.

The ignoramus who questions, ‘Why should the English have Scots on their banknotes?”, is probably best ignored. Where ignorance predominates, vulgarity asserts itself.

The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom and all of its constituent parts: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It long ceased to be an ‘English’ bank and its monetary writ covers the entire Kingdom. Scottish banks retain the right to ‘issue’ their own branded banknotes on a strict one-for-one basis with Bank of England notes.

This is a relic of the Act of Union of 1707, but in monetary terms it is of no significance because if they issue one million Scottish pound notes they must hold in their vaults one million Bank of England pound notes. Its benefits are almost exclusively in brand advertising now, as their financial powers of issue were removed by successive legislation in the UK parliament in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It also gives Scotsmen and Scotswomen - notoriously on short fuses where matters of Scotch dignity are questioned - opportunities to explode into rages when some luckless English shop assistant or taxi driver queries payments using pound notes from a Scottish bank.


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