The Blog

Virtual Currency Would Give Scots Virtual Independence

Last week's opening skirmish in Scotland's War of Independence exposed a flaw in the nationalist battle plan that the unionists were quick to exploit: an independent Scotland would continue to use the Great British pound, irrespective of threats from Westminster.

Last week's opening skirmish in Scotland's War of Independence exposed a flaw in the nationalist battle plan that the unionists were quick to exploit: an independent Scotland would continue to use the Great British pound, irrespective of threats from Westminster.

In the halcyon days before the crisis, the euro seemed the natural dinero of a vibrant, continental Scotland, clearly differentiated from its parochial, isolationist neighbour by the colour of its money, but not now.

With the euro currently as appealing as a nine bob note and with no end in sight to the crisis, the Yes camp thinks retaining the pound may be the only viable option. Yet the eurozone crisis has clearly highlighted the dangers of monetary union without fiscal union.

Scotland without control of its monetary policy would be a semi-independent nation. Yet there's a much more exciting and transformative option that voters won't be offered in the referendum next year: that the Scottish people introduce their own currency.

There's no need for a Scottish central bank. Banks are so last century, leviathans left over from a bygone age. A more equitable solution is to form a limited liability partnership that everyone in Scotland aged 16 years and over has the right to join. I'd call it the Darien Partnership to cock a snook at the past, but some Scots might be superstitious.

The partnership issues a virtual currency, the value of which is pegged to the pound. Let's call it the 'merk' to give it a wee bit of Scots heritage, and let's divide it into 100 ceuds. The merk is what's known as a 'complimentary currency' (like Nectar points or Airmiles), meaning that it's used as well as the pound - sometimes in the same transaction - rather than in place of the pound. The merk is non-exchangeable, like the Chinese Yuan; it doesn't exist outside of Scotland so it can't be siphoned off by bankers or manipulated by speculators.

Merks are spent in store via a mobile phone, or online via a tablet or PC. There's no need to carry two types of cash or extra plastic cards. Merchants will need additional readers and new EPoS software but that's not a big deal. All the technology is readily available. Partners receive merks electronically, directly into their online account. (Yes, I know some people have neither a mobile phone nor Internet access but, hey, no system is perfect.)

Money supply is created when the partnership issues loans (like banks), on behalf of the Scottish people, to organisations domiciled in Scotland. Loanees will be expected to pay their workers in merks for at least one day per week.

But why would anyone accept this Scottish funny money when it's a) invisible and b) not backed by gold? First of all, it's an abundant source of working capital that will set Scottish businesses free of bank debt. It's interest-free; with merks you pay a percentage fee (known as 'demurrage') for the use of the money, which is automatically deducted as merks arrive in your account. If the demurrage percentage is set below bank interest cost, then the cost of making goods in merks in Scotland will be less than in pounds. Scottish services will cost less to provide. Demurrage will cover the costs of operating the currency system and could do a lot more besides.

Scottish businesses will be able to manufacture in merks and export in fiat currencies. Since the merk only exists in Scotland, it will provide an incentive to use Scottish suppliers. Scottish businesses will be able to compete with multi-nationals. High streets will come back to life. There'll be money for infrastructure projects and to build houses. Scottish agriculture will become viable again and there'll be huge savings in carbon cost. Wealth created in Scotland will stay in Scotland rather than being drained away to London or leeched out to tax havens, but value will generally be stored in productive assets rather than in bank vaults.

Since demurrage is applied to unspent merks every month (known as 'negative interest'), account holders will have an incentive to spend their merks before they devalue. Merks left in a user's account will eventually become worthless. It will make sense to invest surplus merks in, say, apple trees or chickens or green energy.

Demurrage discourages hoarding. It speeds up the velocity of money (the number of times a merk is spent over a given period), which stimulates economic activity (as businesses spring up to soak up surplus money). It also counters inflation.

Tens of thousands of jobs will be created. Unemployment will be virtually eradicated. Soon it will be possible to use the merk for all of life's essentials - food, accommodation, utilities, public transport, regional taxes, but the pound will still be used for most major transactions in Scotland and tourists from England will still be able to spend their own money.

At some stage there'll be a problem with the Treasury and HMRC but 5 million Scots will no doubt send them homewards, tae think again - especially when they can demonstrate the massive cost benefits of a vibrant merk-economy to British coffers.

Eventually Scottish people will come to realise that they've gained independence without having voted for it. They'll be free of the liabilities of banks and the self-serving electioneering of politicians in both London and Edinburgh. The state in Scotland will have shifted from being a partisan instrument serving the interests of a political and economic elite to an extension or representation of the civil society of which all of us in Britain are a part.

But Scotland's virtual currency advantage won't last long. Wales, Northern Ireland and the nine English regions will soon have complimentary currencies of their own.