THERE is confusion about the word “nationalism”. It is not uncommon to hear independence supporters saying, “I’m not a nationalist but ...’ and some want even the word “National” removed from the SNP’s name.

We have just seen a massive expression of nationalist sentiment in the World Cup – where you only had to watch the faces to see genuine emotion. But no-one has died and it has probably increased the sum total of wellbeing. The tournament was an example of internationalism with competition and cooperation among nations promoting their national interests within a set of agreed rules and shared objectives. So why the difficulty with the word?

At the heart of the problem is the fact nationalism is a term which is morally neutral. Think of sex. It can be tender bonding or rape but we recognise that it is an essential part of the human condition. Or think of parenting. It can be smothering and possessive or generous and altruistic but is an essential part of the human condition. We don’t avoid these words or assume only a negative interpretation. The question which requires analysis is whether the special commitment to a specific place and people is also an essential part of the human condition.

It is not difficult to make that case in the context of evolutionary theory and anthropology. We are one of the very social animals; the group was not just central to our basic survival but absolutely central to the development of culture. Unless you have some continuous commitment to a place and a people, it is very difficult to develop and transmit cultures which have to evolve over generations.

Obviously, this is a very basic generalisation. There have been huge migrations and great changes in boundaries. Nothing is static but unless the new configurations settle for long periods, an advanced level of social and technical development is difficult. To settle successfully requires emotional reinforcement of functional relationships. We are hard-wired to be tribal for good reasons.

If you scratch the surface we are all nationalist of some description but that can mean entirely different things in terms of political and social values. The recognition of shared identity can logically lead to egalitarian values – the “Jock Tamson’s bairns” interpretation.

It can logically lead to anti-imperialism, to respect for the equivalent rights of other people also to have self-government and to have their national identity respected. It can logically lead to enthusiasm for a genuine inter-nationalism in which nations can co-operate within agreed structures. It can logically lead to welcoming the contribution of new members from different cultures as an enriching experience for the nation.

Much of the logic leads in these directions but, of course, it can also be used in very different ways. The emphasis on national identity can be used to disguise or detract from great inequality. It can be turned into imperialism (but this is different from nationalism).

It can be used to exclude and marginalise those seen to be different. But adopting the position that national identity is not significant to people or is wrong, does not work.

It has been one of the failings of the left in England and it gives the opportunity to the right to impose their interpretation on it. For too much of the time in England they allowed the right to define Britishness and Englishness in their own image. It was an image of monarchy and aristocracy, of the armed forces and military victories, of a mythical rural idyll and a caricatured working class.

Scotland has been fortunate that its nationalist movement, going back to the 19th century with organisations such as the Scottish Home Rule Association, has substantially been guided by people whose values were on the egalitarian, liberal, internationalist end of the spectrum.

This is not, as some have suggested, the product of the past few decades but was represented by people like Roland Muirhead, Cunningham Graham, Compton Mackenzie, Neil Gunn, John Maclean and many of the Red Clydeside activists. For whatever historical, economic or social reasons, Scottish nationalism was not a cause of the political right, who preferred to identify with the British state and empire. We should be proud of this.

But has technology changed the significance of nationalism? Has globalism overtaken nationalism and internationalism? When you can communicate instantly with anyone anywhere in the world, when constantly you see people and events across the globe, will this fundamentally alter political and personal relationships?

Perhaps we will identify primarily with interest groups across the world even if we never meet them and it will be horizontal links which predominate in which distance and physical place will have little meaning. Or perhaps not if we look at the reality at this stage when we have had years of accelerating technological advance.

THIS supposed period of globalism is also a period in which we have had reaction against centralisation. It has taken different forms but resentment against remote decision-making and feelings of alienation from power structures have been a characteristic of the period.

The idealistic view of globalism has rather been overtaken by what has actually happened – the dominance of a small ultra-rich elite and a few massive corporations. When we turn to the personal use of new communication and social media, much of it is still about family and friends.

The problem for those who reject the nation state basis for political decision-making is what is their democratic alternative. Deliberative decision-making requires a well-developed civic culture, shared experience, some mutual understanding and social knowledge among citizens. Twitter and Facebook don’t create this. Things aren’t static; some state boundaries will change. I am confident Scotland will experience such change and that it will be a change based on shared values, a distinctive identity, a desire for a more participative and responsive democracy.

We do not need to be shy or defensive about calling ourselves a nation and promoting the interests of our nation within the context of respect and concern for others.