Keen-eyed spectators might have noticed Danny Alexander and Michael Gove wearing a slightly different type of poppy over the last few days: the Scottish Poppy. At the beginning of the poppy-wearing season they are for sale at the Scottish Office in Whitehall and are worn by certain Scots down here – any money that Andrew Marr will be wearing one on Sunday, for example.
What’s the difference? Scots poppies have four petals, and no green leaf. The English version costs a little more to produce, and – one might argue – looks more sophisticated. But the Scots version can claim to be anatomically correct, because poppies don’t have green leaves. The Scottish poppy is also an early grower: it’s worn a bit earlier north of the border. They are run by two organisations: the Earl Haig fund in Scotland and Royal British Legion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There’s even some odd politics whereby some Scots order up an English poppy because they regard Douglas Haig as a rotter. (Three years ago, it renamed itself PoppyScotland).
Of course, most Scots and English poppy wearers don’t know or care much about the difference. I might not either, if I wasn’t the son of an ex-serviceman who worked for a charity in the Scottish poppy factory. Wearing the poppy is a very British occasion. Political efforts to have some kind of flag-waving national day have always fallen flat, because Britain already has a day of national unity – marked by two minutes of silence to honour the fallen. As we say in The Spectator’s leader, now – more than ever – wearing a poppy is about helping the living.