Sorry to spring this on you without a trigger warning, but I’d like to start with a tweet from Ian Blackford of the SNP. It’s from May 2022 and it goes like this: “Ready to go to the chamber for the Queen’s Speech. SNP members will be wearing white roses. ‘The rose of all the world is not for me. I want for my part only the little white rose of Scotland, that smells sharp and sweet and breaks the heart’. Words by Hugh MacDiarmid.”

That tweet was more than a year ago now but you may have noticed it happened again the other day: there they were, shuffling in for what is now the King’s Speech with the white roses pinned to their fronts. This is a thing the nationalists have done for quite a while: after their success at the 2007 elections, the new SNP MSPs wore white roses for their group photo at Holyrood, with Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon all chummy with each other at the front. The roses, and the relationship, faded in the end, but that’s symbolism for you.

We are told the idea to use the rose was originally Mr Salmond’s, but Mr Blackford laid out what he sees as the inspiration in his tweet: the words of MacDiarmid, specifically his short poem The Little White Rose. MacDiarmid was once a leading figure in the SNP of course and stood as a parliamentary candidate in the 1940s and 50s and, for some, The Little White Rose explains the appeal of a strong sense of Scottish identity, and a desire for independence.

It sure does. But then the power and the meaning of poetry lies in the reader and some of us may not see it in quite the way Mr Blackford does. “The rose of Scotland that smells sharp and sweet”? Oh yes! But “the rose of all the world is not for me”? What a dispiriting sentence that is; give us the roses of all the world. And how reductive is “I want for my part only the little white rose of Scotland”? Only that? Nothing more? Look up!

I accept this is just my personal interpretation of the poem and yours may be different – fair enough, my fellow Scot. But if we must choose short poems about patriotism, I prefer the work of Norman MacCaig, who may well have voted Yes had he had the chance in 2014 but it was more subtle than that with him. I was lucky enough to meet the great man a couple of times and through the smoke from his many Bensons, I remember him issuing this warning: “any idiot can be obscure, but it takes a clever man to be lucid”. And he read us some of his poems. Glorious. How lucky we were.

As far as I remember, he didn’t read his poem about patriotism on those occasions, but then the issue didn’t seem so nagging and in your face back then, in the 80s. But I have his Collected Poems with me here and the poem is on page 266. The Patriot: “My only country/is six feet high/and whether I love it or not/I’ll die for its independence.” Shorter than MacDiarmid’s but realer, much realer because it gets to the truth. Gathered together, we make up a country I guess. But – 6ft tall, or shorter, or taller – what matters more is people and their independence. And what really makes it a MacCaig poem is the little twist of self-doubt ("whether I love it or not"). Self-doubt is good.

But let me round off my stab at literary criticism with the words of another hero of mine, Gerald Durrell. I’ve been re-reading him recently after visiting Jersey Zoo a couple of weeks ago and I was struck by how Durrell's love of the natural world led him to an assessment of the political one that burns with truth. Here’s what he said: “Animals don’t consider all these ridiculous barriers that we put up in the world. I mean, we draw a chalk line on a map and we say ‘that’s Russia’ and ‘this is Poland’ and so forth, but they are entirely artificial barriers and they create more problems than practically anything else that we do in the world.” Sweep the barriers away, he said. Sweep them away.