The UK Home Secretary has announced changes to the "Life in the UK" immigrant test. Instead of containing information on human rights, the nature of the political structure of the UK and the EU, and who has the legitimate right to access benefits, the test will focus on useful things that everyone in Britain really cares about: Shakespeare, Christianity, the Duke of Wellington and the Battle of Trafalgar.
I sat this test before I established my UK residence (I later became a citizen) and a large part of it is about UK culture: the history of women's suffrage, the law and norms around childrearing and work and tax, and more. Much of it is a bit tedious. Is it necessary to be able to rattle off the number of seats in each regional assembly? The multiple choice answers for Scotland were something like: a) 131, b) 130, c) 120, d, 100 -- surely knowing the number plus or minus 20 percent is enough for daily life. The legendary difficulty of the test is largely down to this sort of fine-grained multiple choice answers; it's important to know that women got the universal franchise in the late 1920s and the tradition is firmly established in the UK, but being able to name the exact year is beside the point, something that the test-designers clearly missed.
Being able to name the plays of Shakespeare, or the dates of Trafalgar are also beside the point. As a naturalised immigrant, I'm here to tell you that this sort of thing is an ocean away from the sort of knowledge that one needs to become a part of UK society. It'd be far more useful, for example, to teach us that when you turn on the BBC's "Today in Parliament" and hear the back-benchers braying a kind of well-bred, adenoidal "hnnneagh, hnnneagh" that this is the way what antique posh people say "hear, hear!" and not some kind of mass-poisoning.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.