The ceremony does two things. By making you show up in person, you are more likely to be who you say you are, rather than having the piece of paper that confirms you are now British just sent in the post. And then, of course, you are made to pledge your allegiance to the Queen and all her heirs, and get a little lecture on the importance of tolerance and the democratic values of the UK now that you have joined her.
Whether or not making such pledges will actually deter a potential Idi Amin wannabe from his or her evil plan for national domination, I am not sure.
But it did give me pause for thought. The fact that I was vowing publicly to be faithful and bear true allegiance to the royal foetus, one of Her Majesty’s eventual successors covered in the affirmation, seemed strange. Previously, I had only a passing interest in the little proto-human. I am happy for them, of course, as I would be for any young couple of my acquaintance who were expecting. Except I am not at all acquainted with the duke and duchess other than what I read in the papers. And yet there I was making promises to it – in front of strangers, a portrait of the Queen and the Lord Provost of Edinburgh.
But to adopt the values of a nation means to accept these little quirks. It is not like we were being forced on bended knee to kiss anyone’s ring, or being made to pledge our lives to uphold the tenets of the church of the flying spaghetti monster. But even most British folk, it seems to me, are vaguely bemused by the quaint notion of royalty. On one hand, it links the people of the UK to the colourful history of its system of rule. On the other, it flies in the face of a meritocratic society by maintaining an arrangement where some people are better than others by pure dint of being lucky at birth.
It has become fashionable to reject the values and duties of one’s homeland of late. Recently, British actress Miriam Margolyes went off in a huff to Australia complaining that she preferred it there because it wasn’t riddled with the British class system. Instead, she chose to adopt the sunny Australian social hierarchy, which is all about everyone being equal unless you are Aboriginal.
In the case of American pop star Tina Turner and French actor Gerard Depardieu, each of them recently relocated to new countries to make a stand based on a different sort of principle – that which suggests they prefer not to have their wallets picked no matter how much they love their home country.
As for me, I am proud to be both British by choice and Canadian by birth. And not just because Canadians seem all the rage these days. There’s the one coming to run the Bank of England. Hopes are high – probably too high, but never mind – that Mark Carney will save us all from economic peril. And Alex Salmond got his own Canadian this week when he revealed that Dr Kirsty Duncan had arrived to take a place on his panel of economic advisers. The University of Edinburgh graduate, scientist and minister of Canadian parliament said she was keen to “give something back to Scotland”. But I’ll also bet she was just as happy to avoid the 12 inches of snow due in Toronto this weekend.
For me, becoming British means I am finally a fully signed-up member of the culture I have lived in – and hopefully contributed to – for the past 15 years. It also means, as the man in my life was keen to point out, that if I’m found guilty of any criminal charges I will be sent closer by to Cornton Vale, rather than be deported. Which I thought was terribly sweet of him to mention.
There were about 50 people at the Lothian Chambers this week making their pledges and collecting their papers. But for anyone who thinks that being awarded British citizenship is too much of a doddle, they should see the quantum of paperwork it requires. Not to mention the expense.
Now all I have to do is fill out more forms, spend another £70-odd and wait six weeks for my passport to arrive.