Where I worked until recently, I used to see people collected for a ceremony to become British citizens. They came with children in “Sunday best” and left with the children carrying flags. The idea of a ceremony seems a good one and one these people liked. But when I looked at the oath people had to swear to become a British citizen, I felt revulsion. You have to swear allegiance to the Queen. Now I’ve nothing against her personally, and it isn’t even that instinctively I am a republican (Americans please note – this is not the American meaning of that word). It’s the allegiance. This concept is essentially unconditional. I’m happy with the idea of a kind of contract, to obey the laws of the land (or if I break them, perhaps on a matter of conscience, to take the punishment) and be an active and useful citizen, in return for the protection of the state; but allegiance overrides conscience. To me, allegiance should only be to God and then agreements are with the state.
The whole business also crystallised for me my mixed feelings about being British. I am English, Anglo-Welsh, British, a person from and of the North-East Atlantic Islands (including Ireland) and a European. And a human too, of course.
Still, if I had family who could be thrown into poverty or even murdered by agents of the country we came from if I didn’t swear this oath of allegiance, would I swear it? Yes, I would. So I’m grateful I was born to the thing and didn’t have to make that choice.
Nobody gave me a choice
Of where I’d like to be born
Nobody set me a test
Nor asked me to swear allegiance
To a fixed smile in a dress
I feel as Irish as Scottish
I’m English and Welsh in the blood
How could they accept me as British
Who’d trade in the crown for the mud?