Firstly I will discuss Tom's piece itself and the inferences within. Below is the statement given by McLean and following is the first conclusion drawn by Tom:
"If the poppy was simply about World War One and Two victims alone, I would wear it without a problem. I would wear it every day of the year if that was the thing, but it stands for all the conflicts that Britain has been involved in. Because of the history where I come from in Derry, I cannot wear something that represents that."
McClean is making reference to Bloody Sunday, a tragedy that took place on 30th January 1972, some 17 years before McClean's birth. On (London) Derry's Catholic Bogside, civil rights protesters marched against internment within a wider movement to protest for equal rights within Northern Ireland.
My point here is that McLean doesn't say this, there is no mention of Bloody Sunday. Now it is natural to align the City of Derry or Londonderry with the tragic events of 1972 but there is a lot more to this than the events of one day. Irish citizens had suffered for centuries under British rule and the Republicans' in the North after it's creation in 1921 harbored ill feeling to say the least.
Tom's account of the events of that day are well researched and well balanced and show a willingness to look at a dark part of our British history in the eye which is commendable.
Tom also goes on to discuss the second part of McLean's statement which is the symbolism of the poppy in modern day society. The Poppy Appeal is a wonderful movement, which does fantastic work with veterans and their families which is only a small thanks to the sacrifice and service they have made for what we would call freedom today.
Where I disagree with Tom is his opinion that this means it should be interpreted as such by everyone. Unfortunately there are many examples, some very famous where one symbol can become to mean something different entirely when it is associated with events or political movements. The last few months has seen the removal of the confederate flag from public buildings in America's South which has been associated as a symbol of White Supremacist Activity. Feel free to google the Hindu sign for 'peace'.
The view expressed by McLean in regards to his interpretation of the poppy is not one solely restricted to him and unfortunately for the Poppy Appeal movement this is a simple fact of life. I think a certain level of understanding of this needs to be shown in society to the idea of interpretation and not simply shout at what makes us uncomfortable.
As for my opinion as to whether he should wear one or not my view is quite simplistic, it is his choice. James McLean does not 'refuse' to wear a poppy, he makes the decision to wear one or not, like us all. I am of the view the contemporary idea of 'Poppy Fascism' is perhaps exaggerated, I have never seen anyone pressured into wearing one (or not for that matter) but that of course does not mean this does not exist.
I am also uncomfortable with the idea that someone 'must' do anything. Don't get me wrong, as mentioned previously I am aware of the power of the poppy message and the sacrifices made but we need to respect the choice of the person involved.
It is perhaps through McLean's naivety he has let himself become the focal point of such a divisive issue and I am sure he suffers greatly from the burden society continues to bear on him as they are unable to understand. I am sure he would have done things differently if he had the chance. He isn't the first and he won't be the last that has made the choice.
This debate I really find quite tired and to be honest I am saddened when I see it raised year after year and the archaic hate that derive from it. Sunderland, a club which has enjoyed a large Irish fan base and has been bankrolled with Irish money for years. Unfortunately this did not stop the chants of 'Fuck the IRA' booming from the away end at The Hawthorns.
Hopefully we can all begin to move on from this for society's sake