After writing my previous post, called “Legal Tender“, I got a reply from a slightly upset George1. I confess, my memory was faultly, and I prepended an explanatory paragraph to the post to make George’s arguments clear. He was not arguing that Scottish bank notes are legal tender; rather, he was more concerned that the English refusing to accept Scottish money constitutes discrimination.
It’s an issue that I didn’t explore in my first post, but I shall do so here, in response to George’s email:
I did maintain that it would be discrimination if you were to reject Scottish banknotes as payment, and I still think that that is the case. In the same way as it would be discrimination to reject English banknotes if you were in Scotland […]
The concern is whether or not it would be acceptable to reject Scottish banknotes if it took your fancy. You seem to think that it’s okay for any shopkeeper to refuse payment at any time, irrespective of whatever reason. If I understand you, you’re arguing that it’s not discrimination because you’re drawing the distinction between the money, and not necessarily the people. But the majority of people who use Scottish money are Scottish people, and the note is inextricably linked with Scottish identity and culture.
Imagine, for instance, the racist shopkeeper: racism obviously is criminal.
As an aside: by your logic, and by your legal evidence (that shopkeepers are able to refuse any transactions at the point of sale) then racist shopkeepers should be able to simply reject any business with black people whatever notes they use.
Anyway, imagine if there was printed a banknote with, say Nelson Mandela on it, or a picture of a gay pride rally. Imagine any such banknote that is culturally symbolic and linked with the identity of any other group against which discrimination is possible and likely. This is a suitable analogy I’m sure you’ll agree. By your understanding of the situation, any shopkeepers should be able to reject this note in exactly the same way they would reject a Scottish note. I argue that this would be discrimination.
(I should say that we’re assuming shopkeepers aren’t rejecting it because they think it’s forged or unusable or some other valid reason). [Wilf: agreed]
It’s quite the interesting debate in any case.
You’re right George, it is interesting.
When George and I were discussing this on the pier at St Andrews, I wasn’t concerned with right and wrong, but whether it was legal or illegal. I didn’t make that clear, but neither did George – his use of the word ‘discrimination’, as well as comparisons to racial discrimination, as in his email here, made me think that he was arguing that it was illegal2.
To use discrimination in its loosest terms, the different treatment of two things, then of course it’s discrimination to accept English money but not Scottish money3. It is discrimination by definition, but that’s to say nothing of its legality, its rightness or even its fairness.
Therefore, the first thing I had to do was to clarify just what George meant by discrimination: does he think it’s criminal, morally wrong, or just unfair?
I’d avoid “morally wrong” because it’s not particularly high on a list of moral sins, and I’m sure there isn’t much malicious intent behind it most of the time, but I do believe it is unfair.
You know what? After all that discussion4, it seems we agree. We’d been arguing based on different definitions of “discrimination”. Yes, I think it’s unfair that I have to be conscious of retaining English notes for use in England, in case my Scottish notes are rejected5.
Is that where the argument ends? That argument, yes, but I wonder: should it be illegal to reject Scottish notes?
(Just to make it clear: it is legal to reject Scottish bank notes, and that is what I was originally arguing. In fact it’s always legal to reject Scottish notes, at least in England and Wales – to respond to “the concern is whether or not it would be acceptable to reject Scottish banknotes if it took your fancy”: yes it is legally acceptable).
Regarding racism: I realise that racially discriminating in the provision of goods and services is illegal, meaning that you can’t refuse to do custom with a black person because of that person’s skin colour – that’s due to the Race Relations Act. Currently, discriminating against Scottish notes is not considered criminal discrimination against the Scottish ‘race’.
Perhaps there could possibly be a situation where a whole racial/other-discriminatable-against group is solely represented by a different version of a common currency, perhaps with black people in South Africa or something, but I don’t think such a scenario exists and the situation discussed here definitely does not fit this6.
In my opinion, it would be wrong to force shop keepers to accept Scottish bank notes; no shop keepers are forced to accept English notes (although I’ve never heard of anyone rejecting them), so they shouldn’t be forced to accept Scottish ones. However, some MPs have proposed forcing traders to accept Scottish notes if they accept English ones as well, and this would be the more realistic proposal. The end is effectively the same, but with a different means.
I’m all for allowing businesses the freedom to run as they please, with limits to protect the public. Perhaps a legal requirement should happen, not because it would be racist otherwise, but just to make things easier7.
Thankfully this will not be an issue in the near-future as we move away from physical money to a completely digital world.
- It started with the line “WILFRED WILSON, you have misquoted me massively!” [↩]
- Hence my dismissal of the idea as “ridiculous” in my previous post. [↩]
- Just as it’s discrimination to make males use one bathroom and females use another. [↩]
- which, admittedly, was probably just a couple of minutes long. [↩]
- Sadly, fairness doesn’t seem have any standing in this world. [↩]
- In my opinion, that is. [↩]
- I think it would be even easier to scrap Scottish money, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. [↩]