December 7, 2015 / 12:30 AM / in 2 years

Watt or Fleming? RBS seeks Scottish scientist for plastic banknote

LONDON (Reuters) - James Watt or Alexander Graham Bell? Royal Bank of Scotland is asking the public to choose a Scottish scientist or other innovator to feature on its first plastic 10 pound note.

A sign is displayed outside of a branch of The Royal Bank of Scotland in central London, Britain May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Edinburgh-based RBS said on Monday nominees must be historical figures who are Scottish or have made a significant contribution to Scotland in the field of science and innovation.

All suggestions must be made by Dec. 20 and will be issued on notes in the second half of 2017.

It said the person does not have to be famous and a shortlist will be announced in January, followed by a vote.

Graham Bell, who invented the telephone, and Watt, who improved the design and function of the steam engine, are both in the Scottish Science Hall of Fame. Alongside them are the likes of Alexander Fleming, who discovered the antibiotic penicillin, and John Logie Baird, inventor of the first working television.

RBS has been issuing banknotes since 1727 and has about 1.5 billion pounds ($2.3 billion) of notes in circulation. Unlike England and Wales, where banknotes are all issued by the Bank of England (BoE), Scotland has notes in circulation issued by local banks, which are guaranteed by deposits at the BoE.

Archibald, Earl of Ilay, an 18th century nobleman who was one of the founders of RBS, has been on all RBS notes since 1987.

The BoE and Scottish banks are opting for plastic notes, saying they are cleaner, more secure and more durable than cotton paper, and redesigning them as they come in.

The BoE this year asked for nominations for a visual artist to put on its new plastic 20 pound notes and received nominations for 590 eligible artists, which it will choose from and announce the winner next spring.

The choice of portraits for a note can be controversial, however. The BoE was criticized in 2013 for taking its only female figure, social reformer Elizabeth Fry, off its notes. Novelist Jane Austen was subsequently chosen to appear on new 10 pound notes.

Reporting by Steve Slater; editing by Susan Thomas

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