We councillors get given a wide variety of jobs to do. From attending meetings about multi-million pound projects to dealing with constituents’ queries and voting on some very controversial policies.
One of the quirkier tasks is occasionally helping with Citizenship Ceremonies. Since 2004, people from other countries who have successfully applied to become British citizens have to go through a ceremony to complete the process.
Becoming a British citizen is a significant life event for people who have decided to make the United Kingdom their home. Some will have come here as economic migrants, possibly through the points based system. Others may have begun their journey as students or the children of adult migrants. Many will have come here to seek asylum from persecution in their own countries.
In the past, the process of applying for and being granted citizenship was entirely through postal application. Applications would be decided and oath of allegiance forms issued to successful applicants to make their own arrangements for swearing allegiance to the Crown. Citizenship certificates would be despatched by post once the oaths had been returned.
Following civil disturbances in 2001 in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford a decision was taken to enhance the process of becoming British by introducing citizenship ceremonies which could be celebrated within the local community. To prepare immigrants for citizenship and to encourage their participation in British society, they are encouraged to learn English and understand something about British life. This is to increase their chances of finding employment and improve integration. Ceremonies were introduced in 2004 and have become successful and popular events throughout the United Kingdom.
The ceremony itself is officiated by one of the Council’s registrars. The registrars also look after weddings and record hatches, matches and dispatches. The registrar starts by welcoming everybody to the event which is held in the beautiful late 19th century old Council Chamber in 1, High Street, Perth. The councillor then makes a short speech, which can be about how glad they are that as new citizens they have chosen to live in Perth and Kinross and express the hope that as new citizens they will take part in voting and the democratic process. After this, the new citizen makes a pledge of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II and promises to obey British laws. The National Anthem is played on CD and everyone is invited for a cup of tea and a piece of shortbread.
While the registrar and the councillor have not had to travel far, the new citizens often have had to travel thousands of miles, learn a new language, and adapt to a completely new culture. There’s also a byzantine and expensive Home Office process to navigate. Personally, I think people who choose to come to live in our country bring valuable skills and ambition, not just for themselves but ambition for their children to succeed as well. At the October ceremony, there were families from India, Romania and South Africa. Although some aspects of the ceremony are not to everyone’s taste, I found it very moving to meet the three families involved and welcome them to their new lives in this country.