The New British 50 Pound Note: A Priceless Opportunity to Promote Diversity

For those living in the UK, you may have seen recently that in the following years the £50 note is going to be changed from the current paper note to a polymer note, as was already the case with the £10 and £5 notes not so long ago. With the new note comes a new design, and the Bank of England have already stated that a scientist will be the key figure portrayed. As such, there is already a lot of speculation of who would be the best fit, with everyone’s opinion reflecting their choice of person who celebrates diversity in a way they deem the most important. While I do have my own opinions – which you will come to read if I haven’t bored you already – there is something I at least agree with: it should be someone who promotes diversity. 

Current notes

In order to fight my corner, I’d first like to give you a list of the faces currently on our notes:

  1. £5 – Winston Churchill
  2. £10 – Jane Austen
  3. £20 – Adam Smith
  4. £50 – Matthew Boulton and James Watt

In total we have four heterosexual white males and one heterosexual white female; alongside these faces, we’re lucky to be graced with the presence of the queen, a woman allowed to live a lavish lifestyle funded by the state while more people rely on charity to feed themselves now more than ever simply based on the challenge of being born into the right family. According to the representation on these notes, one sixth of our population is born filthy rich and there are four men for every two women, while other ethnic minorities or those in the LGBTQ+ community don’t actually exist. 

The queen’s face on the British currency. Source: Suzy Hazelwood.

Limitations

While I do appreciate that it is a bit hard to represent British society as a whole on a set of four notes, more of an effort can surely be made. The problem is also exacerbated by the fact that in order to appear on the note the person must be dead, and specifically for this £50 note, it must be a scientist. As chance would have it, the majority of the people who tick these boxes are in fact white men – due to the power systems which were and still are present in our society against women and minorities – instantly skewing the vote in favour of a lack of diversity. However, within this, there is one standout candidate and the man who I’m personally backing: Alan Turing. 

Representation

Ok, I know, it’s pretty ironic to be preaching about diversity while pushing a white man to fill the spot and lead the charge, especially after all of my previous quips. However as a gay man, he does bring some diversity, particularly against the backdrop the Bank of England has already set up. Alan Turing represents the tragedy of being rejected by a society who you helped to save, simply by preferring the company of those of your own gender. By placing his face on the banknote, this would be a huge way of rejecting the way he was treated and showing that homophobia has no place in our modern society. 

Other candidates

Saying that, I would most certainly be open to another candidate who would also represent diversity in someway, it’s just with the imposed criteria, nothing came to mind. As a gay man growing up I never had a role model with whom I could wholly identify, and to have had someone like Alan Turing on my money which I’d use to by my cigarettes and alcohol might have helped me deal with the complex emotions surrounding my sexuality in the most hormone driven part of my lifetime. At the end of the day, as long as I don’t see Margaret Thatcher’s wretched face staring back at me every time I peek into my wallet, the other options don’t seem so bad; though let’s be real, when’s the next time I’m going to have a 50 pound note lying around?

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Jack McGovan is a recent graduate in chemistry with a specialisation in ‘Energy and Sustainable Chemistry’ from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Following a job as a student journalist covering the energy transition, he has moved to Berlin where he is following his passion for working towards creating a fairer and more sustainable world. Seeing a gap in the way in which the world of science was communicated, he founded Delta-S. By writing source based content, he hopes to communicate his findings to a wider audience.