Banknotes of Scotland

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Banknotes of Scotland are the banknotes of the pound sterling that are issued by the Scottish banks and in circulation in Scotland. The issuing of banknotes by retail banks in Scotland is subject to the Bank Charter Act 1844, the Banknotes (Scotland) Act 1845, the Currency and Bank Notes Act 1928, and the Coinage Act 1971. Currently, three retail banks are allowed to print notes for circulation in Scotland: Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Clydesdale Bank.

Scottish banknotes are unusual, first because they are issued by retail banks, not central banks, and second, because they are technically not legal tender anywhere in the United Kingdom – not even in Scotland.[1][2] As such, they are classified as promissory notes, and the law requires that the issuing banks hold a sum of Bank of England banknotes or gold equivalent to the total value of notes issued.[3][4]

The fact that the notes are not defined as legal tender means that they are not withdrawn from circulation in the same way as the Bank of England notes, which cease to be legal tender on a given date. Instead the Scottish banks withdraw old notes from circulation as they are banked. Any notes still in circulation continue to be honoured by banks,[5] but retailers may refuse to accept older notes.[6]


For ease of identification, all three issuing banks in Scotland use the same principal colour for each denomination: Blue for £5, brown for £10, purple for £20, green for £50, and red for £100 [7]. This colour scheme is similar to current Bank of England notes (except that the Bank of England £50 note is red rather than green and they do not issue a £100 note). The size of the notes is also consistent across the three Scottish banks and the Bank of England.

Bank of Scotland notes[edit]

The front of a Bank of Scotland £5 note from the polymer series

All Bank of Scotland notes bear a portrait of Sir Walter Scott on the front in commemoration of his 1826 Malachi Malagrowther campaign for Scottish banks to retain the right to issue their own notes. [8] The Bank of Scotland's 2007 series of banknotes is known as the Bridges of Scotland series. These notes were introduced on 17 September 2007, and show Scotland's most famous bridges on the reverse side. From 2016, the Bridges of Scotland series is being renewed with the issue of new polymer notes with designs that follow the same basic theme of "bridges". The Tercentenary and 2007 series of notes are being withdrawn from circulation and replaced with the polymer series as these are issued, but older notes continue to be accepted at banks. In line with this, the Committee of Scottish Bankers encouraged the public to spend or exchange non-polymer five and ten pound notes before 1 March 2018.[6]

A Bank of Scotland £20 note of the 2007 issue

Following the announcement that HBOS (Bank of Scotland's parent company) would be taken over by Lloyds TSB in September 2008, it was confirmed that the new banking company would continue to print bank notes under the Bank of Scotland name.[9] According to the Bank Notes (Scotland) Act 1845, the bank could have lost its note-issuing rights, but by retaining headquarters within Scotland, banknote issue continued.[10]

Bank of Scotland banknotes
Image Denomination Obverse Reverse
Tercentenary Series (1995)
[1] £5 Sir Walter Scott Vignette of oil and energy (withdrawn)
£10 Vignette of distilling and brewing (withdrawn)
[2] £20 Vignette of education and research
£50 Vignette of arts and culture
£100 Vignette of leisure and tourism
Bridges of Scotland Series (2007)
£5 Sir Walter Scott Brig o' Doon (withdrawn)
£10 Glenfinnan Viaduct (withdrawn)
£20 Forth Bridge
£50 Falkirk Wheel
£100 Kessock Bridge
Polymer Series (2016 onwards)
BOS-Polymer-£5-Front.png £5 Sir Walter Scott Brig o' Doon
BOS-Polymer-£10-Front.png £10 Glenfinnan Viaduct
£20 Forth Road Bridge

Royal Bank of Scotland notes[edit]

A £5 Royal Bank of Scotland note from the Polymer series

As of August 2017, the Royal Bank of Scotland is in the process of adopting a new series of banknotes. These will be made of polymer. Two (the £5 and £10 notes) have already been released, whilst a new £20 note is due for introduction in 2020. The £5 note shows poet Nan Shepherd on the obverse accompanied by a quote from her book 'The Living Mountain', and the Cairngorms in the background. The reverse displays two mackerel and an excerpt from the Scottish Gaelic poem ‘The Choice’ by Sorley MacLean.[11] The obverse of the £10 note shows scientist Mary Somerville, with a quote from her work 'The Connection of the Physical Sciences', and Burntisland beach in the background. The reverse displays two otters and an excerpt from the poem ‘Moorings’ by Norman MacCaig.[12] The obverse of the £20 note, to be introduced in 2020, will show entrepreneur Catherine Cranston. The reverse will show two red squirrels and a quote from the Scots language poem 'Venus and Cupid' by Mark Alexander Boyd[13]

The design process of the notes was touted as a "collaboration with the people of Scotland", with a total of 1,178 Scots being included. Nile HQ[14], a Strategic Design Company led the redesign process and De La Rue printed the notes. Each note contributes to an overall theme ‘Fabric of Nature’. Given the national significance of the notes, Nile HQ invited some Scottish designers, photographers and calligraphers to develop the creative concept for the new notes (O Street[15], Graven Images[16], Timorous Beasties[17], Stuco[18] and Susie Leiper[19]).

A polymer £10 note featuring Mary Somerville

The previous series of Royal Bank of Scotland notes, originally issued in 1987, is in the process of being replaced by polymer notes: the Committee of Scottish Bankers encouraged the public to spend or exchange non-polymer five and ten pound notes before 1 March 2018, which have now been withdrawn from circulation.[6]. On the front of each note is a picture of Lord Ilay (1682–1761), the first governor of the bank, based on a portrait painted in 1744 by the Edinburgh artist Allan Ramsay.[20] The front of the notes also features an engraving of the bank's former headquarters in St Andrew Square, Edinburgh. The background graphic on both sides of the notes is a radial star design which is based on the ornate ceiling of the banking hall in the old headquarters building.[21] On the back of the notes are images of Scottish castles, with a different castle for each denomination.

Occasionally the Royal Bank of Scotland issues commemorative banknotes. Examples are the £1 note issued to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Graham Bell in 1997, the £20 note for the 100th birthday of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 2000, the £5 note honouring veteran golfer Jack Nicklaus in his last competitive Open Championship at St Andrews in 2005, and the £10 note commemorating HM Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in 2012. These notes are much sought after by collectors, and they rarely remain long in circulation.

Royal Bank of Scotland banknotes
Image Denomination Obverse Reverse
Ilay Series (1987)
£1 Lord Ilay Edinburgh Castle
£5 Culzean Castle (withdrawn)
[3] £10 Glamis Castle (withdrawn)
RBS-Ilay-Series-£20-Front.png £20 Brodick Castle
RBS-Ilay-Series-£50-Front.png £50 Inverness Castle (introduced 2005)
RBS-Ilay-Series-£100-Front.png £100 Balmoral Castle
Polymer Series (2016 onwards)
RBS-Polymer-£5-Front.png £5 Nan Shepherd Mackerel
RBS-Polymer-£10-Front.png £10 Mary Somerville Otters
£20 Catherine Cranston Red squirrel

Clydesdale Bank notes[edit]

A Polymer Series £5 Clydesdale Bank note featuring Sir William Arrol.

Clydesdale Bank has three series of banknotes in circulation at present. The most recent set of notes, the Polymer series, came into circulation in March 2015, when the Clydesdale Bank became the first bank in Great Britain to issue polymer banknotes. The £5 commemorative notes, issued to mark the 125th anniversary of the construction of the Forth Bridge, contain several new security features including a reflective graphic printed over a transparent "window" in the banknote.[22][23] Further notes in the polymer series will be introduced over time, replacing the previous paper notes: the public were encouraged to spend or exchange non-polymer five and ten pound notes before 1 March 2018, these have now been withdrawn from circulation.[6]

The polymer notes continue the theme of the World Heritage Series of paper banknotes, introduced in autumn 2009. The new notes each depict a different notable Scot on the front and on the reverse bear an illustration of one of Scotland's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.[24]

A £20 note of the Clydesdale Bank Famous Scots Series

Banknotes of the earlier Famous Scots Series portray notable Scottish historical people along with items and locations associated with them.[25]

The Clydesdale Bank also occasionally issues special edition banknotes, such as a £10 note celebrating the bank's sponsorship of the Scotland team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Following the announcement of the CYBG's takeover of Virgin Money in 2018 and planned phasing-out of the Clydesdale Bank brand by 2021 in favour of Virgin Money, there was uncertainty as to the future of the Clydesdale Bank's banknotes after 2021, however in June 2019 the company confirmed that it would continue to issue notes under the Clydesdale Bank name.[26]

Clydesdale Bank banknotes
Image Denomination Obverse Reverse
Famous Scots Series
[4] £5 Robert Burns Vignette of a field mouse from Burns' poem To a Mouse (withdrawn)
[5] £10 Mary Slessor Vignette of a map of Calabar, Nigeria, and African missionary scenes (withdrawn)
[6] £20 King Robert the Bruce Vignette of the Bruce on horseback with the Monymusk Reliquary against a background of Stirling Castle
[7] £50 Adam Smith Vignette of industrial tools against a background of sailing ships
[8] £100 Lord Kelvin Vignette of the University of Glasgow
World Heritage Series (2009)
[9] £5 Sir Alexander Fleming Vignette of St Kilda (withdrawn)
[10] £10 Robert Burns Vignette of Edinburgh Old and New Towns (withdrawn)
[11] £20 King Robert the Bruce Vignette of New Lanark
[12] £50 Elsie Inglis Vignette of the Antonine Wall
[13] £100 Charles Rennie Mackintosh Vignette of Neolithic Orkney
Polymer Series (2015 onwards)
Clydesdale-Polymer-£5-Front.png £5 Sir William Arrol Vignette of the Forth Bridge
Clydesdale-Polymer-£10-Front.png £10 Robert Burns Vignette of Edinburgh Old and New Towns

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bank of England- Frequently Asked Questions. "Are Scottish & Northern Irish notes legal tender?". Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 14 October 2007.
  2. ^ "No. 58254". The London Gazette. 21 February 2007. p. 2544.
  3. ^ "Scottish voters in favour of keeping the pound". Daily Express. 12 March 2017. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  4. ^ "What to do with Scottish Paper £5 notes". Committee of Scottish Bankers. Archived from the original on 22 August 2017. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d "Four-week deadline to use Scottish paper money". BBC News. 5 February 2018. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  6. ^ "Banknotes". Committee of Scottish Bankers. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  7. ^ "Malachi Malagrowther and the Scottish banknote". BBC. 22 April 2017. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  8. ^ McIntosh, Lindsay; MacDonell, Hamish (19 September 2008). "Takeover 'may tip economy of Scotland into turmoil'". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 21 September 2008. Retrieved 20 September 2008.
  9. ^ MacLeod, Angus (18 September 2008). "Salmond rallies bank chiefs to rescue Scottish jobs". The Times. London. Retrieved 20 September 2008.
  10. ^ "New RBS bank notes to feature Nan Shepherd and Mary Somerville". The Scotsman. 25 April 2016. Retrieved 25 April 2016.
  11. ^ "RBS to issue polymer £10 banknote in October". BBC News. 11 August 2017. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  12. ^ Caroline Wilson (23 October 2018). "Glasgow pioneer Kate Cranston honoured on new £20 note". Evening Times. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
  13. ^ "Service Design I Nile". Nile. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  14. ^ "O Street - Design & direction". O Street. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  15. ^ "Graven - We design beautiful spaces, places and ideas". Graven. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  16. ^ "Timorous Beasties, Contemporary Fabrics, Wallpapers, Cushions, Lampshades & Rugs". Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  17. ^ "Stuco - Portfolio of work". Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  18. ^ "Susie Leiper | Susie Leiper Calligrapher". Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  19. ^ "Archibald Campbell [Mac Cailein Mòr], 3rd Duke of Argyll, 1682 – 1761. Statesman". National Galleries of Scotland – Scottish National Portrait Gallery. 2008. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  20. ^ "Our Banknotes – The Ilay Series". The Royal Bank of Scotland Group. 2008. Archived from the original on 26 January 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  21. ^ "Clydesdale Bank brings in plastic £5 notes". BBC News. 23 March 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  22. ^ "Plastic £5 notes released by Clydesdale Bank in first for Scotland". STV. 23 March 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  23. ^ "Clydesdale launches Homecoming bank notes – Herald Scotland". 14 January 2009. Archived from the original on 14 February 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2010.
  24. ^ "Current Banknotes : Clydesdale Bank". Committee of Scottish Bankers. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  25. ^ "Clydesdale Bank notes to survive Virgin Money deal". BBC News. 19 June 2019. Retrieved 15 July 2019.

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