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Exploring Orkney’s Constitutional Future: What currency shall we use?

In the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum it was not greater citizen’s rights, having a written constitution, tackling the climate emergency, eliminating poverty and other such worthy issues that filled the debates but the question of what currency an independent Scotland would use. Strangely, hot topic as it was at the time, the currency question does not seem to have filled the minds of Orkney’s councillors who voted to investigate ways of separating from Scotland and the UK.

So let’s take a look at it.

Since the first people stepped ashore in the islands of Orkney, firstly just passing through, and then to settle, exchanging goods with one another has taken place. Those early settlers, the monumental builders and farmers, acquired stone goods, pottery – perhaps even mating partners, from elsewhere.

During the Iron Age, the builders of the magnificent brochs, to later on develop into Orkney’s Picts, traded far and wide. Roman artefacts have been found among the deposits they left behind. The Pictish nations ruled over most of Scotland, and Orkney was very much one of them. We still know so very little about the Picts of Orkney. What we do know is that they were very successful, farming, fishing, trading and producing wonderful art work, testament to the skilled craft workers that they were.

multiple roman silver coins showing different roman emperors
Photo by Thomas K. on Pexels.com

Early Roman coins have been found in Orkney from broch sites because the Romans did use coinage as a means of exchange and payment.

There are Ogham inscriptions found in Orkney. The Buckquoy ogham inscribed spindle whorl was reinterpreted by Katherine Forsyth who suggests it may be written in Old Irish rather than Pictish.

Pictish kings in Orkney continued close relationships and understandings with the other Pictish kingdoms in Scotland. So much has gone into myth about them but the use of hostage taking as a means of securing agreement was usual and the great Pictish King Bridei took Orkney hostages to cement the links between the kingdoms. Sometimes war and military might took over.

In 709AD ‘a war was fought in Orkney, and in it fell the son of Artablair,’ – The Annals of Ulster. Orkney was then far more dominated by the larger Pictish Kingdoms and the process of Christianisation began. No names are known of the Pictish rulers of Orkney but the slab discovered at The Brough of Birsay is of a high status person with his warriors following.

carved stones with Pictish symbols on them in Orkney Musem
Image credit Bell. Pictish stones in Orkney Museum excavated in the islands

The Norse who invaded and eventually enslaved Orkney, arrived to wealthy Christian islands, where trade by sea was the norm. The Vikings, great traders as they were, especially in people, settled and were to eventually rule the islands. They in turn owed allegiance to Kings of Denmark and Norway – depending on the political rulers of the day. The Vikings, like the Picts, have romantic myths woven around them, but as traders and landlords, they efficiently collected taxes and traded far and wide. Most often the tax collected would be in the form of crops, animals and people.

Moving into more modern times, the system of paying the lairds for farming the land, for fishing off the shore, etc was done mostly in produce. It was also done in the provision of a tenant’s labour. So the great Kelp boom was made possible by the use of men and women (unpaid) to harvest and process the crop from the shoreline for the laird to then make money from it.

Currency, as a means of exchange, has existed in Orkney, in various forms. Today it is the UK £ sterling (mostly Scottish bank notes) but in an increasingly cashless society you can pay in nearly every shop and business with the touch of a card. A few places will even accept Euros (in note form).

So, in an Orkney, separated from Scotland and the UK, what would be the currency?

Well, of course, Orcadians could continue to use the £sterling for as long as they wanted but what happens elsewhere in some of those examples being suggested by Orkney’s councillors?

The States of Guernsey, Crown Dependency, population over 63,000

Guernsey has its own currency but whilst you can use UK currency in the islands, that of Guernsey is not acceptable in the UK

Sterling is the currency of Guernsey, which has its own notes and coins – your pound in the UK is worth the same as when you spend it in Guernsey. UK and Jersey currency can also be used within the Islands, but Channel Island sterling is not accepted in the UK. Major credit cards are widely accepted throughout the Islands. Some businesses will accept euros, although change will generally be given in sterling. ATM machines are available at high street banks in St Peter Port, the airport and selected sites, including supermarkets, garages and some out of town banks throughout the Island. Currency

This means that when you see the price of something in the shops in Guernsey it is the same amount of coinage/notes, whether or not you pay in Guernsey money or UK money. However, when you leave the islands, the Guernsey money in your wallet will have no value in the UK.

‘The Guernsey Financial Services Commission is the regulatory body for the finance sector in the Bailiwick of Guernsey. It supervises and regulates over 2,000 licensees from within the banking, fiduciary, investment and insurance sectors in accordance with standards set by international bodies such as the Basel Committee for Banking Supervisors, the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, the International Organisation of Securities Commissions and the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering. The Commission uses a risk based approach to the supervision of licensees which is underpinned by a system known as PRISM.’ Guernsey Financial Services

The Faroes, an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. Population 54,000

The currency of the Faroe Islands is called “Krona”. One Krona is divided into 100 “Oyrur” (singular “Oyra“).

The Faroese króna is issued by Danmarks Nationalbank, the central bank of Denmark. The ISO-code of the currency is DKK and the abbreviation is KR. The Króna is not a real separate currency, but a variant of the Danish krone. As a result, it does not have an ISO 4217 code of its own and instead uses that of Denmark’s national currency, the DKK. Although, unofficial the ISO code FOK is used. Visually, it differs only in the print motif of the Danish crown, which includes local Faroese landscapes and animals.

The National Bank of Denmark will change Danish kroner to Faroese krónur and vice versa free of charge. Also Danish kroner are widely accepted as a means of payment in the Faroe Islands. Currency

Only Danish coins are used. 

As with Guernsey, it is advisable to exchange the Faroese króna before leaving the islands as it may not be accepted in Denmark.

There are four banks in the Faroe Islands:

And if you are employed in The Faroes you must open a bank account in one of the above as your salary will be paid into them.

Norway, Independent Nation , population 5.4million

The currency of Norway is the Krone (NOK).

There are limits to the amount of currency you can carry into or out of Norway. This is currently set at 25,000 Norwegian Krone (about £2,500). If you bring any more than this into the country, you must declare it to Customs on arrival. Exporting currency from Norway in excess of the set limit has to be approved in advance by Norwegian Customs and transferred through a bank. Forms for this and further information can be found at Tollvesenet. Failure to comply with these rules can lead to arrest, a substantial fine and temporary confiscation of the excess currency which may then be released only through a bank. UK Government

Norway is not a member of the EU, so although it has agreements over the free movement of people in the Schengen scheme, it does not use the Euro.

There are 27 countries in the Schengen Scheme. The area includes hundreds of airports and maritime ports, numerous land crossing points, an area of 4,368,693 km2, and a population of 423,264,262 citizens.

The 27 Schengen countries are:

  1.  Austria
  2. Belgium
  3.  Czech Republic
  4. Croatia
  5. Denmark
  6. Estonia
  7. Finland
  8. France
  9. Germany
  10. Greece
  11. Hungary
  12. Iceland
  13. Italy
  14.  Latvia
  15. Liechtenstein
  16.  Lithuania
  17. Luxembourg
  18.  Malta
  19.  Netherlands
  20.  Norway
  21.  Poland
  22.  Portugal
  23.  Slovakia
  24.  Slovenia
  25.  Spain
  26.  Sweden
  27.  Switzerland.

Debit and credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, and many places also accept payment by phone, like Google Pay and Apple Pay. But it is still a good idea to have a bit of cash on you for small purchases. Foreign currency is rarely accepted, so you need Norwegian currency to get by. You will find cash machines in towns and cities, and in most rural areas there will be at least one place where you can withdraw money, such as at a kiosk, grocery shop, or petrol station.” Currency

Norges Bank is the Central Bank of Norway, which promotes economic stability. The Central bank also executes monetary policy and promotes an efficient payment system and financial markets. The Financial Supervisory Authority Of Norway is an independent government agency in Norway that contributes to financial stability and well-functioning markets. The economy of Norway is mixed with free market activity and large state ownership in certain key sectors. Foreign Bank branches contribute 19% to retail and 38% domestic corporate market. The number of banking branches decreased significantly because more and more people use banking services online. Banks in Norway

Local currencies are found in dependencies and highly devolved governments. Or as in the case of Norway, an independent country, control over its own currency. All three of these examples can print their own currency, although in the case of The Faroes, no coinage is used except Danish. Increasingly, too, electronic payments are making society cashless.

More importantly, however, than the mere question of ‘what currency will we use?’, is that of the flow of money – in and out of communities – especially if they become targets for money laundering schemes.

Lots for Orkney’s councillors to consider, and whose head to put on the Orkney kroner, or Orkney pound, or Orkney dollar ? Who will control the printing presses? And will we become a tax haven conduit for money laundering?

Also in this series:

Fiona Grahame

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