FLOWER of Scotland is a dreadful song. Musically, it’s a dirge. Lyrically, it’s bloodthirsty and xenophobic. Somehow, it manages to be both mawkishly sentimental, and to sound like a football chant. I hate it. As the unofficial national anthem for Scotland, it’s an embarrassment.

But then the official national anthem of the United Kingdom is just as bad. God Save the Queen is appalling. It’s a subservient grovelling drone. It's also replete with sabre-rattling xenophobia and cloying sentimentality. It’s demeaning. I’d sooner be struck dumb than sing it.

These songs represent both Scotland and the UK terribly. Though there’s a chance to have an intelligent conversation now about updating our national music for the 21st century. On Sunday, the song Jerusalem, the unofficial national anthem of England, was voted the country’s favourite hymn. Soon the question was being posed whether Jerusalem should become the official anthem of England.

It should. Why not lift the song from the rugby field and give it the status which befits it? All the nations of Britain deserve their own official anthems - instead of being yoked together under the godawful throwback that’s God Save the Queen.

God Save the Queen, along with Rule Britannia, and Land and Hope Glory - another unofficial English anthem - represent what’s worst about England. The only saving grace of Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia is that they sound great. Both have the same uplifting choir-of-heaven oomph as Ode to Joy, the anthem of Europe - which makes your eyes cross in ecstasy a bit when you hear it. Nevertheless, both are also treacle-thick in empire, toadying, schmaltz, exceptionalism and supremacy.

Similarly, Flower of Scotland does Scotland no favours. It’s a chippy song about grievance and the inability to put the past behind you. It feels like it symbolises the type of Scot who hates the English just because they are English, and privately, shamefully, believes England is better than Scotland. That’s why the song can never let go of ancient victory as it smothers a misplaced sense of failure.

Nearly all national anthems have the same shortcomings of militarism, exceptionalism and xenophobia - not just the UK and Scotland. America’s Star-Spangled Banner is set during a battle. France’s Le Marseillaise is blood-drenched. Ireland’s anthem is The Soldier’s Song.

Jerusalem, though, represents what’s good about England. The poem upon which the song is based, And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time by William Blake, is about the future not the past. It rails against social evils - the dark Satanic mills - and speaks of a yearning for reform and a better tomorrow: “I will not cease from mental fight … till we have built Jerusalem.”

This is a song for the common people - not for royalty. There’s no hatred of the foreigner in the song and as a piece of music it’s dramatic, powerful, even overwhelming. What a great anthem it would make for England.

And poor England could do with some good public relations right now. In the age of Brexit, England can, understandably, seem slightly menacing to many Scots and Irish, particularly those of us in favour of Scottish independence or unification in Ireland. The rise of street politics and English nationalism is frightening, the tone of debate in England often verges on the violent, there’s a complete disregard, it seems, for the wishes of the Scottish and Irish people. Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia, and God Save the Queen all seem to express this sense of a growing and threatening exceptionalism.

But, of course, that’s only half of England that we’re looking at - the Land of Hope and Glory half, the Rule Britannia half; there’s a Jerusalem half also, and we mustn’t forget that. England isn’t all Wellington and Waterloo, it’s William Wilberforce and Peterloo as well, and Jerusalem represents England’s better self.

Words matter – we’ve seen that in the House of Commons, with concerns over the martial rhetoric that’s come into debate. Words especially matter if they’re meant to represent a nation or a people. No music or poetry can embody the spirit of millions - we’re too diverse for that. But an anthem can set the tone for a nation. It gives the world a story about us, and more importantly, it tells us a story about ourselves.

Are we insular and self-centred? Well, yes, if you listen to Flower of Scotland, and God Save the Queen. Or are we outward looking, hopeful, ready to make the world a better place?

Jerusalem would certainly help the English tell a better story to themselves and to the world, but what about Scotland? What should our alternative national anthem be?

There’s been a number of contenders in the past: Caledonia, Scotland the Brave, A Man’s A Man for A’ That, and Scots Wha Hae.

Let’s get rid of Scots Wha Hae right away. It’s just more William Wallace kitsch. More military nostalgia, more glorifying wars which happened centuries ago rather than worrying about tomorrow.

Scotland the Brave hasn’t got any warlike xenophobia but it’s a bit shortbread tin. It’s kaleyard - all shining rivers and sleeping hills, quite similar to the Canadian national anthem O Canada, which is great for promoting tourism, but I don’t know if it represents a nation looking forward into the future.

A Man’s A Man is admirable. It was sung at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and that truly felt like a nation trying to tell a story to the world and itself - and it comes straight from the pen of our greatest poet, Robert Burns. It’s written for ordinary people, not rulers. It’s a deeply honest and very human song.

Caledonia has merits too, though its slightly overly sentimental for my tastes. It’s a song about love of country, however, without the ugliness of patriotism. It speaks to that part of the Scottish story which is about leaving home, migrating, and then yearning for the land you left. Most of all it's a song about love - as is A Man’s A Man. One is about love of place, and the other is about love of fellow human beings. Neither are about hating foreigners who you don’t understand. A song about love, not about war - that would make a good anthem, for once in history.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year