The British Citizenship Test: How much do you know?
I moved to the UK from America in 2000, not with a plan to immigrate, it was an opportunity to live outside my home country and see the world a bit. I was lucky with the job I got, which I mercilessly and proudly stole from a British person. The job came with a nice long work visa. After a few years, I received perminent residency, and eventually was eligible to become British.
However, to make it all the way, I had to take the Citizenship Test, which the Labour government introduced in 2004. The climate at the time of the test was a push back against all these new foreigners (including me I assume) coming over here and taking your jobs (that would be me). However, most of the main wave of immigration was from the EU. Not only would they be exempt from a test because they were already European citizens, they provided much needed improvement in the level of plumbing skills available in the UK. But the demand for ‘Something to Be Done’ was everywhere. Labour, as with most governments, heard the racist, misinformed noise in much of the press and caved.
Once they accepted the idea of a Citizenship Test the government was forced to describe Britishness. A committee was formed; recommendations were made, and then swiftly ignored. Defining yourselves and committing these things to paper have never been a strong suit in this country, you haven’t even written your Constitution down. And it’s not like paper hasn’t been around for a while. (As a side note, I highly recommend writing the Constitution down all in one place, that’s what we did in America and it’s pretty much cleared up all the legal problems there.)
So a test now had to be taken. I read the official guidebook, took the test and passed. On the first go.
Lot’s of people have mocked me for having read the guidebook the government published before taking the test, but I didn’t want to fail. I knew it would be hard enough for you to accept me, and if I struggled to even make it through on the first try it would never be forgotten. Failing would be like when I misunderstood the rounds system for ordering drinks when I first moved here. You miss one round and you’re labeled as the guy who cheats on the round for eternity.
After much mocking for not being British, despite having taken the test, I finally had enough and the result is the video experiment. We stopped a random selection of about 10 groups of people and asked a sample pool of questions taken from the guide.
As you can see the results were pretty clear. You don’t know squat about yourselves. This isn’t a stitch-up in editing. Only one, very nice, quite British lady, managed to pass.
The elements of the test are bizarre to say the least. The questions test a range of obscure facts that don’t have much to do with our current day-to-day experiences and ones that scream committee creation. You can imagine the meeting where they argued the merits of ‘making a good neighbour’. Keeping your front garden tidy? Yes. Building a meth lab in your loft? Probably not.
Luckily, the Coalition is on the case and the guide and the test are currently being updated. The new guide will reflect more history, Shakespeare, and will remind test takers of the country’s strong ‘Christian’ history. All you Jedi immigrating here, be warned, the force of the Church is strong on this Isle.
Brilliant lessons in governance are also included in the process. There are a few mistakes in the guide, and if you answer a question correctly according to the way things actually are, and don’t answer incorrectly as stated in the guide – you get it wrong. Right, is wrong. What better way of teaching how the country is run?
Yep, in our completely unscientific survey, I think we proved any test given to measure citizenship is a huge waste of everyone’s time. Citizenship is earned and attained by birth or with time. It is retained by being a contributing member of your community. Yes, you have a shared cultural heritage, but by allowing and embracing immigration you are also accepting your future – that of a dynamic and interesting country, both past and present.
We were pleased on the day to see a number of people who passed the test with scores of 100%. They were the people who wouldn’t stop and talk to us at all. What could be more British than that?
And for the people who did stop, they passed a much more important test – The Humanity Test. They saw someone who needed help, stopped and gave a little bit of their time and of themselves. That’s the kind of person I’m proud to have as a fellow citizen.
Erich McElroy’s show The Brit Identity will run 1-27 August, 16.45 at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh FestivalTagged in: Arts, britain, Citizenship Test, comedy, edinburgh festival
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