In today's Times Libby Purves has written an article about testing for British Citizenship. Many countries have introduced such a test for immigrants.
The French are planning a new citizenship test that candidates for naturalisation must pass. President Sarkozy places importance on cultural assimilation and understanding of the philosophical basis of French equality, liberty and fraternity. The Interior Ministry adds that there must be basic knowledge of his country’s artistic history, great painters, writers and philosophers, as well as its contemporary culture. The British test has some basic stuff about Parliament and elections, but is mainly a cautious mish-mash of stuff about MoT tests, benefits, and the Council of Europe. It demands that you know the exact number of days per year when schools are legally required to open and is dusted with some dottily detailed questions about population statistics, a ridiculous inquiry as to which “issues” young people in the UK most worried about in a survey made eight long years ago, and a multiple-choice question about whether married women got the right to divorce husbands in 1837, 1857, 1875 or 1882.
Canada’s is detailed and proud, asking for the six main responsibilities of citizenship, the meaning of the Remembrance poppy, major rivers and natural resources, and whether the national symbol is a moose, hawk, beaver or bear. The Dutch are proud, too, at least of their social attitudes. They demand knowledge that nude sunbathing is legal, and preface the test with a film of two men kissing, and a prostitute. (There has been some fuss about whether all this is covertly Islamophobic , and one indignant message-boarder says: “Basically you must be a degenerate to obtain Dutch nationality.”) The German test asks, equally contentiously some say, whether the candidate believes that Israel has the right to exist. Again, one learned paper in a European think-tank attacks that as being anti-Muslim thought-policing.
Libby has made up her own list:
• Who stands on that pillar in Trafalgar Square and why?
• Do we have theatre censorship?
• Why is sea trade important to Britain?
• Who should you complain to about a TV programme that offends you?
• Write 30 words on either the British attitude to pigs or Winnie the Pooh or Alan Bennett or David Beckham or Bob Geldof.
• Who is Dame Vera Lynn? or What is another meaning of the word dame, especially around Christmas?
• Name a Shakespeare play or three songs by Lennon and McCartney.
• What did William Wilberforce achieve?
• What was Dunkirk or D-Day?
• Is Coronation Street (a) a television show or (b) the Queen’s address?
• If you wanted to know about toad-in-the-hole, would you be more likely to ask (a) Sir David Attenborough (b) Delia Smith (c) Alan Titchmarsh?
• Are you allowed to swear at a policeman?
• What is the National Trust? A zebra crossing? The Premier League?
One commentator has answered these :
1. Lord Nelson – naval hero and won a number of battles.
2. Not since the 1960s but the matter is still under discussion
3. We are an island doh! Sea trade is our lifeline.
5. Pigs are highly intelligent animals and provide wonderful meat, bacon, ham and sausages. Traditionally, they were fed on household scraps, waste milk products and so were environmentally friendly. So there!
6. Dame Vera Lynn is a singer and performer who performed all over the world in wartime to raise morale. Love her to bits
7. King Lear – appropriate for these difficult times.
8. He abolished slavery
9. D-Day was when our troops landed in Europe, including my father.
10. Corry – TV show
11. Toad in the hole – Delia Smith but I bet DA would have something to say on the matter too.
12. No – not AT a policeman. The recent case was about a man who swore IN FRONT of a policeman as he was so ignorant, the “F” word was part of his normal vocab.
13. The National Trust takes over and runs, for public enjoyment, large houses and estates which are part of our historical heritage.
I don't think that these answers are strictly accurate but they are close enough to pass, but to my mind they are the wrong sort of questions. Another comments thus:
What do any of these questions have to do with true citizenship? Since when did knowing a load of facts and having a good guess at the rest matter? What counts is being able to earn a living, speaking English, good manners etc. and a lot to be said for loving thy neighbour.
I tend to agree.
What we need is not a test but a pledge, and this should apply not only to those applying for citizenship, but to all those entering the country. Those breaking their word on this pledge should be immediately expelled. The pledge would go something like this: Do you agree while living in the UK to respect freedom of speech, freedom of religion, including witnessing for your faith, the right to own property, the right of free assembly, and do you agree to abstain from violence, intolerance of the behaviour of others, insulting behaviour and to obey the criminal law on pain of expulsion from the country without appeal?