Sunday, 1 July 2012

No tests please, we're British

I've made my views on nationalism clear before. It's impossible to define what constitutes a "British" person, such as by culture, religion, ethnicity and so on in a way that applies exclusively and universally to British people. It's the same with any other nationality, too. This is why the concept of changing nationality is so difficult, and we end up with the infamous and ludicrous Britishness test.

The Britishness test taken by potential Brits is widely recognised as being post ridiculous. It implies you need to have knowledge of British history, institutions and customs in order to be British, something which clearly isn't true of all native Brits. I can see the case for an English language test for citizenship as this is at least something which, if not held by everyone, is necessary in order to be a productive member of society. But above and beyond this it's difficult to say what standard should be met to gain citizenship. New citizens are currently required to pledge an oath of allegiance to the Queen. I can assure you if that were required of current citizens I would be out of the country in an instant. However, it does make a kind of sense. We have no codified constitution so don't have any universal values to swear allegiance to. The Queen represents the sovereign of this country, so an allegiance to her (and to democracy, as is also required) at least acknowledges the government of the day and some kind of recognition of British institutions. However, it's counterintuitive to some not make migrants jump through hoops to gain citizenship which is where the test comes in.

Finally Theresa May, who herself has jumped head first into British society after being left behind by the other astronauts, has decided to reform the test. She has decided to make the test "more patriotic". Now I can personally guarantee you that you don't have to be in the least bit patriotic in order to hold a British passport. You can, in fact, blog about how unpatriotic you are, publish hate-tweets about the royal wedding and jubilee or describe the London Olympics as a tedious, over-hyped garish money pit and continue to call yourself British.

Perhaps the best solution is to take a leaf out of the Judean People's Front's book. "If you wanted to be British you'd have to really want to be British" "I do." "How much?" "A lot!" "Right, you're in".

You could even have different versions to make it comprehensive:
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to really hate the Germans"
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to have a really irresponsible attitude to alcohol"
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to really enjoy talking about the weather"
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to really like Richard Curtis"
and so on.

The good thing is that Theresa May has gone for a slight variation on this. The bad news is I was only joking. From the 146 page "Life in the UK" handbook given to potential Brits she's removing information about how to read a gas meter, how to claim benefits and details of the Human Rights Act and replacing it with information about historical figures, knowledge of British inventions (including the structure of DNA) and an ability to recite the first verse of God Save the Queen.

Let's think about that for a second. The practical information that might actually be of benefit to people living in the UK is removed and replaced with information about historical figures. What we test people on is fairly arbitrary as, like I said, there isn't any range of questions that could be correctly answered by all British people, but if we're going to have questions, it at least makes sense to have ones which give the new citizen practical information about living in the UK. The HRA is perhaps unnecessary, but it's removal is probably more a reflection of the fact the Tory party hates it, and knowledge of DNA structure? Last time I looked DNA wasn't a British invention, and if we're going on British discoveries, why not have a test on America? An ability to recite God Save the Queen is of little practical use, as when British people are in that rare situation where singing is compulsory we scarcely move our lips while mumbling as quietly as possible so the person next to us can't here. Maybe that would be a more useful skill to teach potential Brits.

Not telling people about benefits, getting people to swear allegiance to the Queen, forcing British history on people and getting them to acknowledge Britain as a Christian country seems less like a positive reform of a shoddy system, more like an attempt by Theresa to impose her socially conservative values on people. It's once again a case of the party of small government being keen to use government to push its values on people when it feels like, which suggests small government is not an ideological part of the Tory party, but simply happens to temporarily reflect the economic interests of its voters. Shocking revelation, I know.

But what's the solution? I don't know, I'm just shouting from the sidelines. Obviously I'd prefer the abolition of the nation state to be replaced with a single global federation, but assuming that's not going to happen any time soon, I suppose there should be some kind of language test, but not much else. British "values" can't really be said to exist, and even if we could agree on some liberal democratic principles which potential Brits should share, there would be no way of knowing if people actually hold them. "Do you support liberal democracy?" "Sure, why not?" and this again has the problem of native British people who DON'T support liberal democracy. Although maybe this could be a way of getting rid of all those pesky fascists and communists. Maybe this isn't such a bad idea after all...

It has been brought to my attention that the relevant Judean people's resistance group is the People's Front of Judea, not the Judean People's Front. After misquoting Monty Python I will now be renouncing my British citizenship.

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