National identity and personal identity are the themes of this secondary assembly, using the 2009 European elections as loose theme
This assembly has been written to coincide with the 2009 elections to the European Parliament. It asks questions about national and personal identity. The material may be modified to suit local circumstances or adapted in view of the results.
- A Leader and two Readers
- A slide of the European flag and the Union Jack (real flags may be used)
Engagement[Show slide of the European flag/real flag]
Leader: Does anyone recognise this? It’s the flag of the European Union which is now made up of 27 countries, including our own. This flag makes some people cheer and some people groan, while others aren’t interested or don’t even recognise it. But we do need to know about the European Union, because we are part of it and it affects the way we all live.
Reader 1: Elections for the European Parliament are this week. They are chosen once every five years by voters across the 27 member states, which has a population of 492 million people. (1)
Reader 2: But the public in the UK don’t seem very keen on the European parliament. At the last election in 2004, just under 40 percent of the British voters turned out to vote. (2)
And this time the turnout was [insert figures – add relevant local comment].
Leader: The European Parliament may seem insignificant and a long way away but the laws that it passes affect us all. Our membership of the European Union has made people ask, what does it mean to be ‘British’ nowadays?
Reflection[Show slide of the Union Jack]
Reader 1: The full name of our country is ‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. That’s rather a mouthful, though, so it is often shortened to ‘The UK’ or ‘Britain.’
Reader 2: The United Kingdom is made up of four nations: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The first three were originally separate kingdoms and each of them is represented by one of the three crosses in the Union Jack. Wales flies its own red dragon and doesn’t have a representation in the Union Jack.
Reader 1: Each of the four nations has a long history, but England is bigger than the other three put together. London – the capital of England – is also the capital of the United Kingdom, and the Central Bank of the UK is called ‘The Bank of England’, Because England is so much larger than the other nations, people often talk about Britain (short for Great Britain, which includes England, Scotland and Wales) when they really mean England, or England when they really mean the United Kingdom as a whole.
Reader 2: So ‘England’, ‘Britain’ and ‘the United Kingdom’ are used interchangeably by some people who don’t really understand the difference.
The climax of the football season used to be an international match between England and Scotland. England fans tended to wave the Union Jack, while Scottish fans waved the Scottish flag, the St. Andrew’s Cross. But since 1996 most England fans have started to fly the English flag, St. George’s Cross, instead. (3)
Reader 1: That’s partly because times have changed. Scotland now has its own Parliament, and Wales and Northern Ireland have their own assemblies. We now have the European parliament, too.
Leader: These changes have made a lot of people ask: Who are we really? What does it mean to be English, Scottish, British, ‘United Kingdom-ish’, European – or what?
Reader 1: Some of us have links with countries overseas. For example we may feel that we are Jamaican/English or Scottish /Asian. Others love their home town or county and say, ‘I’m a Londoner’, ‘I’m Cornish’ or ‘I’m from Yorkshire’. But how do we define ourselves internationally nowadays?
Reader 2: Legally we are subjects of the United Kingdom and since 1992 we have been official European Union citizens too. (4)
Reader 1: Our ‘personal identity’ – who we feel we really are – is not only based on the colour of our skin or our religion – though that may be an important part of it.
Reader 2: It isn’t really based on our language either because the English language is the official language of a number of other countries, and other people who live abroad are much keener to learn our language than we are to learn theirs. In the last Eurovision Song context, many of the competitors dropped their own language and tried to sing in English instead. Statistically, according to Eurovision, entries sung in English are more likely to go on to win the competition. (5)
Reader 1: Some people argue that people in the United Kingdom feel detached from the rest of Europe – perhaps it’s because we live on a separate island. You won’t see the European flag flying as commonly here s you would in France or Germany.
Reader 2: On the other hand, sport has become internationalised. Kevin Petersen plays cricket for England although he was born in South Africa, and in May 2009 Manchester United joined Chelsea and Arsenal in fielding a team without a single English player. (6)
Leader 1: So who are we? Do we belong to our town, our county, our country, our continent, or to the world? Or something else?
Reader 1: All too often ‘loving your own country’ has meant disliking other countries, often starting with the nation next door. England and Scotland, for example, were at war, on and off, for three hundred years. But nowadays their tough guys meet on the rugby field and not on the battle field. That has to be an improvement.
Reader 2: And some of the nations of Europe spent centuries battling with each other, right up to the terrible destruction of the second world war. Now those countries have come together in the European Union. Their football teams, and not their armies, clashed in Euro 2008. That has to be an improvement, too.
Reader 1: So loving your own town, county or country needn’t mean sneering at other people’s towns, counties or countries.
Reader 2: The Bible says ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus chapter 19 verse 18, and Mark chapter 12 verse 31). That’s a good commandment accepted by many faiths. You don’t have to only like one or the other – you can learn to love both.
Reader 2: So why not adapt those words and say, ‘Let’s love other countries − just as we love our own’.
Reader 1: Many of us have ‘multiple identities’. It’s fine to feel Welsh, English, Afro-Caribbean, Asian, British and European, all at the same time if we want to!
Reader 2: We can be patriotic and also learn to enjoy the culture of other nations. We can cheer for our own team and still make friends with fans of opposing teams.
Reader 1: The new European Parliament will soon be meeting and over the next five years it will discuss things that will be important for all of us. By the time of the next European election, most of us will be old enough to vote.
Leader: And meanwhile, we belong to the United Kingdom and to the European Union. No one knows how things will develop in years to come, but we can be sure of this: the people of the world must learn to live together and work together. Please listen as our readers present a short drama, which includes a prayer.
Response[A dialogue for two readers, who stand apart and talk about each other to the audience]
Reader 1: I don’t know what to make of them.
Reader 2: I don’t know what to make of them.
Reader 1: They talk with a funny accent.
Reader 2: They talk with a funny accent.
Reader 1: They eat different food.
Reader 2: They eat different food.
Reader 1: I don’t know much about their religion.
Reader 2: I don’t know much about their religion.
Reader 1: They probably won’t like my music.
Reader 2: They probably won’t like my music.
Reader 1: But they’re probably quite nice really…
Reader 2: But they’re probably quite nice really…
Reader 1: I’m going to try to make friends. Please, help me…
Reader 2: I’m going to try to make friends. Please, help me…
Readers 1 and 2: (Turning to face each other) Excuse me… would you…? (They freeze)
Leader: (Joining their hands) Let’s try to make friends… in Europe and all around the world. And please, help us. Because it’s worth it.
(3) http://www.isg-fi.org.uk/spip.php?article284e news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/1939821.stm – 105k
All websites were accessed on 03-06-09. This assembly was edited before the European election took place — please add your own turnout figures.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2009
About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.