Salmond Slates ‘Pythonesque’ UK Citizenship Plan

Proposals for schoolchildren to undergo ceremonies to pledge their commitment to the UK and for a British national day to enhance shared citizenship were last night ridiculed by Alex Salmond, the First Minister, as “Monty Pythonesque” and worthy of Basil Fawlty.

The suggestions form part of a package of measures put forward by Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, to boost pride in Britain and underline the rights and responsibilities of UK citizens.

However, no sooner had his report, “Citizenship: Our Common Bond”, been made public than some of its measures were roundly condemned as “utter rubbish” by the UK Government’s political opponents.

Among the more controversial suggestions is the one to extend citizenship ceremonies for new Britons to all youngsters. In his report, the Labour peer pointed out how there was scepticism about the ceremonies for new citizens when they were first introduced. “Yet those ceremonies are successful and when they are done well, they are very moving. Hence, scepticism to them has diminished over time,” said the report, which was commissioned by Gordon Brown.

Lord Goldsmith acknowledged difficult issues would have to be resolved but suggested such ceremonies, which could incorporate “the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen and the Pledge of Commitment to the UK”, could be linked to the end of a young person’s citizenship classes at school.

Another contentious proposal is for a British national day to be established by 2012 to enhance “our shared narrative”. In his report, Lord Goldsmith cited Australia Day as an example worth looking at.

Suggesting making British national day a public holiday, the ex-minister argued: “This would not be a day to celebrate the Union, nor would it be a government event. The role of government would be, as it is in Australia in respect of their national day, to provide a pool of funds for national day committees to assist with the organisation of events all around the country.”

Lord Goldsmith acknowledged there would be “undoubtedly issues raised about how a national day would be received in Scotland”, but made clear there would be nothing in its framework that would prevent the celebration of “shared identities alongside our bond of shared citizenship”.

Asked if the Union flag should play a larger role in celebrating Britain’s identity, Lord Goldsmith said: “Some people want to celebrate their identity by using particular symbols, including the flag. If people want to do that, that is absolutely fine. For other people the flag doesn’t do it for them, but there are other ways they can celebrate.”

Despite a suggestion by Lord Goldsmith in December that some verses of the National Anthem – one refers to “rebellious Scots to crush” – were inappropriate to modern Britain, he said he did not propose any changes.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond described some of the suggestions as “a Monty Pythonesque, Basil Fawlty approach to citizenship”.

He added: “We will concentrate on the real job of making Scotland the best place it possibly can be for young Scots to grow up confident about their nationality, accepting Scotland’s place in the world and their own responsibilities to wider Scottish society.”

Tory shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said it was “profoundly un-British” to demand the public swear oaths of allegiance.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister was non-committal, saying the proposals contained “some interesting ideas”.