The new passport is pure, unadulterated arrogant English chauvinism. And it’s without a shred of humour. It has to have been designed by a bunch of Whitehall mandarins enjoying a too-long liquid lunch in an upmarket restaurant somewhere in Pimlico, like a bunch of Mafia dons in their favourite Italian carving out their territory.
Flick the pages, [apologies for the faint images – that’s how the passport is printed] jaw agape, certain the British parliament is giving Scotland the finger. “You lost your country, now take your medicine like the bad boy that you are!”
It’s completely Anglo-centric.
Page after page depicts great historic figures of England’s past. Glaring omissions leap out at you, nothing from Scotland, Wales, or the provinces, colonies, or protectorates for that matter. If you are pushing England’s power why not include them all even if in a European Union passport? (Northern Ireland gets the Titanic museum building – awarded an architect’s ‘Carbuncle’.) The passport is a graphic mess and insulting.
Where is that proud sentinel of the empire, the Gibraltar Rock, the one Spanish customs officers like to hit hard with an entry stamp whenever it’s stuck under their nose? It has its own version of the British passport.
The new passport has a multitude of buildings and landmarks from London, Liverpool, Manchester and… that’s about it. Oh, there is the Angel of the North, the not very interesting in-your-face symbol of Northern industry from sculptor Antony Gormley, and about as far north as any London politician dare travel without fearing for his life.
Nell Frizzell (real name!) in the Guardian (real name!) bemoans the fact that only two women feature in the new passport. One is architect Elizabeth Scott, a lover of English brick, used fairly unconventionally for her day, but more famous for coming from a long line of architects, Sir Gilbert Scott among them. The other is Ada Lovelace – look her up!
Frizzell lists a group of women she feels could have been included all of whom are English with the honourable exception of Muriel Spark, she probably included in error, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie novelist having lived abroad most of her life and not in the place of her birth, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Ms Frizzell’s list of notable female achievers covers a good deal of the second-rate, Tracey Emin, Maggi Hambling, Cornelia Parker, Tacita Dean, Sarah Lucas and Rachel Whiteread. Whiteread is the sculptor who pours concrete into empty rooms and huts and calls it art. Presumably she likes her tea with a jar of sugar standing in it.
Frizzell gets bolder and adds a few notables, “Barbara Hepworth, Bridget Riley or Mary Quant would have been a welcome illustration of women’s contribution to visual art.” Her novelists are limited to the obvious English roses, but she throws in JK Rowling to depress standards. Rowling and Shakespeare together?
She opines, “Alongside Shakespeare was there not room for Charlotte Bronte, JK Rowling, Shelagh Delaney or Muriel Spark? Not to mention Aphra Behn, Christina Rossetti, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Mary Wollstonecraft or Virginia Woolf?”
What? No Michele Mone? And where is Banksy?
But Frizzell is right, only two women guarantees those who crafted the new passport were all brain dead males, their female secretary made busy making coffee, such arduous intellectual tasks that require thinking past Page 3 of the tabloids, choosing people and places in the United Kingdom for fading immortality, left to the men.
Frizzel argues the reason Caroline Criado-Perez campaigned to have Jane Austen’s portrait on the ten pound note “pushed women into the day-to-day fabric of British life.” There you go, ‘British’ stops at the Angel of the North. Mary Queen of Scots would be an historic figure too far for Frizzell.
For the last two years, now cranked up a gear because we Scots are more uppity than ever, fear-mongers told Scotland it is too ineffectual a nation to figure in anything. They prove it by including Scotland in only one way they know it, kilted pipers on Edinburgh Castle.
Scotland is reduced to how the English see and use us, as a theme park, a weekend retreat, Balmoral and all. When Osborne, Cameron, Balls and Miliband concocted their wee conspiracy to deny an independent Scotland a share of the pound that Scotland had contributed to in billions since 1707, they planned to go all the way, that is, only within the English border, passports, high speed trains, English votes for English laws and all.
Why make all this fuss?
It’s only a passport, after all. We hardly glance at our passport until it’s time to take that business trip or holiday. It is the document we keep in a drawer next to our underpants, or in a desk with our divorce certificate, and Two-For-One cinema pass. More often than not it is lost down the side of the sofa, or still in the suitcase next to the can of insect repellent. Well, to some officious officials it’s what separates you from coming or going.
On one occasion I forgot to get my US Embassy (London) approved new work visa adhered to my passport, and seeing it slipped in loose, the US airport official turned me back from the plane. I am told I look like a terrorist, long hair, grizzled visage, designer stubble and all. To make matters worse I sport no executive’s business suit, and I always travel light, my motto: take half the luggage you think you’ll need and twice the money. (You can buy clothes anywhere, cheaper than in the UK.) This makes customs officials even more suspicious of me. No luggage! Mistrustful looks aside, the point is, my British passport was of no use whatsoever. I was sent home.
The design theme of the passport is ‘creative Britain’, so right there the pig ignorance begins and the insult is planted in the soil. Belittling Scotland’s achievements and achievers goes back a long way. Late last century the R.L. Stevenson Society wrote to the chairman of the Royal Mail requesting he issue a stamp with the portrait of their hero for the anniversary of his birth. They got a curt reply, “The novelist is not well enough known to be eligible.”
That’s Scotland telt! Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde, The Master of Ballantrae, Catriona, and A Child’s Garden of Verses are, by Royal Mail reckoning, all works few bought and fewer read. If only movie studios had seen their worth.
I mention the instance of Stevenson because it is symptomatic of the limits of English concern. You really have to mix with the London glitterati – as I have and do on occasion – the people who set the standards and dictate the criteria for selection, to see and hear how little they care about Scotland, yet are the first to say it’s part of Britain.
The Reverend Peter Hawkins offers some common sense. “None of us wanted to be born British, yet we have to put up with the fantasies of Border Control and Passports in order to enter and leave the place of our birth. (The present European Format is an improvement on the previous UK Cit format because it is smaller.) The only page of significance is the Identity Card at the back. The rest is flummery. UK Control is so insulting, we have the right to free movement of persons, but I still have to pay for the Westminster Circus.“
Another hardy Englishman takes a less jaundiced view but plays loose with reality :
“I’m a guy so that probably colours my view, but seriously, I don’t give a shit who is on the passport as long as it get’s me into the country I want to go to, and doesn’t get me thrown in jail.”
A lot of good a British passport did for British national Shaker Aamer, lifted in the night by false accusation and spirited to Guantanámo for 14 years of sanctioned hell with torture on tap, carried out without arrest, lawyer, or trial. And the British embassy was … where?
I can’t leave the last word to Frizzell because she thinks English is all of British.
“I would love to hand over a passport at customs that made me proud to be British.”
Good for her. I would love to hand over a passport at customs that made me proud to be Scottish, but I am denied that right. Then again, it is all part of the new colonialism: “The Scotland Office – part of the UK Government IN Scotland.”
Suck on that, Sweaties!