AN SNP politician appears at Holyrood a few days before Remembrance Sunday. She’s wearing a white poppy with a ‘Yes’ badge in the middle of it. The opposition parties say it’s an appalling stunt and she should apologise. Really? Let’s think about this for a minute, shall we?

But before we do: a quick summary. The politician in question was Michelle Thomson, MSP for Falkirk East, and she was wearing the poppy while appearing on a Holyrood committee. Interestingly, fellow SNP MSP John Mason also wore a white poppy but it was Ms Thomson’s combination of poppy and Yes badge that really seemed to get the critics going.

Here's what the Conservative Annie Wells said: a poppy is a symbol of remembrance and commemoration and Ms Thomson’s ‘Yes poppy’ was crass and appalling. And here’s the view of LibDem (and former Royal Marine) Brian Wilson: it seems like there’s nothing the nationalists won’t slap a Yes sticker on and Ms Thomson’s badge was an insult to veterans.

Ms Thomson’s response to all of this was interesting and revealing. What she said was that the white paper poppy she’d been wearing fell apart as she arrived at Holyrood and a colleague gave her another one. There was no pin in it though, so Ms Thomson used her Yes badge until she could obtain another pin. “No offence was intended,” she said.

So let’s dig into this a bit further, although before we do, I should probably admit my own instincts on the subject. I wear a red poppy every year and I do not understand the motivation for wearing the white ones. In fact, if I see someone wearing a white poppy, I find it a bit irritating if I’m honest. Stick a Yes badge on top of it and it’s positively triggering.

The problem for me is that the white poppy seems to carry an implied criticism of the red based on a misunderstanding of it. The suggestion is that the red poppy in some way supports war or militarism while the white one stands for peace. Indeed, John Mason underlined this point by wearing a white poppy with the word ‘peace’ in the middle of it.

But I keep thinking about a service I attended at Glasgow Cathedral in 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. With hundreds of others, I listened to the Church of Scotland moderator Susan Brown describe what the red poppy meant. The black at its centre is the blackness of war. The red is the red of blood. And the green of the stem is the green shoot of hope. Seen like that, the red poppy and the white are the same: anti-war.

I appreciate, however, not everyone sees it this way and some people, including politicians, choose white instead. Fair enough. Annie Wells says the poppy is a symbol of remembrance – and it is – but when politicians, Ms Wells included, wear one (or don’t), it’s also a political act. All Ms Thomson did was up things a bit by sticking a Yes badge on top – she supports independence and is against whatever it is she thinks the red poppy stands for and she’s entitled to show us that’s the way she feels. It is not an insult to veterans.

Having said that, I think all of us – including opposition politicians – should do politics in a responsible way, which reminds me of something else I heard at the service at Glasgow Cathedral. The former army chaplain Professor Norman Drummond was speaking about the Great War and he said the memory of it was a “tool for the living” and specifically a warning not to let politics get out of hand.

If only politicians in Scotland were listening. I would defend Ms Thomson and her white “indy” poppy – just because I see the red poppy in a particular way doesn’t mean she has to as well. But I also regret the apparent ever-present primacy of the constitution which leads to the same-old, same-old: nationalist says ‘Yes’, unionists say ‘shame’, nationalist says ‘it was because my other poppy broke’, and so on. It’s politicians getting distracted from subjects that are deeper than politics. It’s politics getting out of hand. And most importantly, it’s missing the point of the poppy – red or white.

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