Bill Ramsay: Of course the poppy is political - and it's not disrespectful to say so

SNP CND convener Bill Ramsay lays out his feelings on the poppy debate

OF COURSE the poppy is political, it always has been, though the contexts have varied over the years.

At one time, it was a hugely resonant symbol despite the lions-led-by-donkeys modern sobriquet that has attached to its first standard bearer, Douglas Haig. In its first iterations, like Haig himself, the poppy was quite popular with many (though of course not all) of those that survived the charnel house of the Western Front.

Damaged by the interwar austerity the establishment had learned better by World War II, and the prospect, and then the post-war reality of, the welfare state gave the narrative coherence, a least until the late 1970s.

We are, in my view, reaping the whirlwind of the invidious, deliberate and almost constant conflation of the welfare of our troops with the questionable wars they are sent to fight.

The troubles in Ireland made the poppy problematic for some. Foreign military adventurism heralded by Tony Blair and sustained, with weak and often nervous qualifications at certain points by almost every party represented at Westminster since, brought issues of war and peace back from the history books to the here and now for many others.

We are, in my view, reaping the whirlwind of the invidious, deliberate and almost constant conflation of the welfare of our troops with the questionable wars they are sent to fight. For instance, this morning, on my way to work in the rush hour, via Glasgow Central Station, I spotted only four poppies. 

The meaning of the poppy for some of us of a certain age is personal as well as political. As a trade union activist at the wrong end of middle age, the meaning of the poppy has gone through many manifestations. As a member of the 217th Company of the Boys Brigade I took part in many remembrance commemorations in my locality. 

Later in life, anti-war marching, particularly in the first decade of the 21st century, became as much a feature of my activism along with the more familiar experience of marching behind, or sometimes carrying the banner of my union.

I have worn a poppy on many occasions, though, in recent years with increasing unease. The decision to rebrand Veterans' Day as Armed Forces Day, is in my view particularly invidious. 

I have worn a poppy on many occasions, though, in recent years with increasing unease. The decision to rebrand Veterans' Day as Armed Forces Day, is in my view particularly invidious. 

This was only one of several conscious initiatives to try and inject a significant degree of militarism into wider civilian culture. Another was the reintroduction of regimental homecoming parades for units returning from active warfighting operations. This was originally an event to mark the return from lengthy imperial tours of duty.

But what of our servicemen and women, for whom the poppy initiative is meant to help. The experience of the American servicemen returning home from the unpopular Vietnam War convinces me that a conscious effort needs to be made to ensure our service men and women are not ostracised. 

Of course, for the elements of the political elite who see the constant expeditionary mode as a necessary feature of foreign policy, the prospect of co-opting the poppy brand for new wars is too good a chance to pass up - particularly when they can call on the resources of the media, both private and state, to underpin their messaging.

This was only one of several conscious initiatives to try and inject a significant degree of militarism into wider civilian culture.

The broad anti-war movement in Scotland and in the UK, much to the barely concealed chagrin of some in authority, has always been respectful of ordinary service personnel and their families.

This, however, won’t stop some from badging opinion pieces like this as disrespectful and worse.

After all, from the perspective of war's cheerleaders, such intolerance has real political utility. The prospect of blanket media opprobrium strikes many politicians dumb and occasionally worse, particularly when some feel it necessary to say that the poppy is not political when it manifestly is.

Picture courtesy of Susanne Nilsson

Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.

CommonSpace journalism is completely free from the influence of advertisers and is only possible with your continued support. Please contribute a monthly amount towards our costs. Build the Scotland you want to live in - support our new media.