IT is astonishing how pernicious a single word can be in the fast moving world of modern media.

This week there were several very telling reminders of how politicians deploy words and then use them repeatedly over a short period of time before watching as they spread like a virus through the body-politic. ‘‘Now is Not The Time’’, ‘‘Get Brexit Done’’ and ‘‘Get On With Day Job’’ are three recent phrases that have been used to limit Scotland’s democratic choices.

Such is the benign and often imitative nature of media outlets that they dutifully pick up on these words and phrases, repeating them as if they had magical power, rarely stopping to do the real job of journalism and challenging their repeated use.

Last week, in his brief journey to the island of Ireland, Boris Johnson vowed to keep his manifesto promise to end “vexatious” prosecutions of former servicemen. He used the word in the context of Stormont and the return of power-sharing in Northern Ireland, and did so in a way that was calculated to send a subtle but unsettling message to Irish nationalist communities.

The word vexatious is about as pernicious and ideological as they come. It is a word of discord and certainly not the cross-community harmony that he purported to be welcoming.

The dictionary definition of vexatious is a tendency to annoy but within a legal context it means bringing forward a case which has a limited chance of succeeding, or one designed to upset or enrage.

Boris Johnson is not stupid and he must surely have known that his selective use of words would have resonated with dark resentments among the families of the victim of Bloody Sunday, the Ballymurphy Massacre, and the murky killings of the Miami Showband.

The Ballymurphy Massacre, in which 11 civilians were killed by members of the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, has been a infected sore within the politics of Northern Ireland for decades now and has never had the public airings that Bloody Sunday unlocked.

The DUP under Arlene Foster has doggedly held back the funding available to stage inquests into the killings, a move criticised by Amnesty International.

In effect by deploying the word ‘‘vexatious’’ Johnson was playing to a gallery back home, the powerful military lobby within Westminster which resents any inquests or enquiries into the conduct of the British Army at home or abroad.

Johnson seemed to be heavily hinting at two things – firstly that the bereaved of Ballymurphy had little chance of success and secondly that too much time had elapsed and the events of that horrendous weekend should be confined to history. In other words, justice will never be done.

As if on cue Julian Lewis, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, was interviewed live from Westminster to reiterate the point and add ballast to the word ‘‘vexatious’’. Lewis is a leading opponent of CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and was once described by the Daily Telegraph as “one of the most vigorous rightwingers in the commons”.

Rest assured Lewis will be a formidable opponent of any attempts to curtail, restrain or remove the Trident missile programme from Scotland. His words to camera had a chilling certainty, implying that most of the accusations of brutality and unlawful killing aimed at the Parachute Regiment in Derry and Ballymurphy were ‘‘vexatious’’ and that any claim against army personnel whether legitimate or otherwise should be vigorously defended.

Lewis is of the view that the army should be immune from prosecution and, like many right wingers, is anxious to tear up Human Rights legislation on Day One of Brexit.

Keep your eye on the word ‘‘vexatious’’. You will hear it again and again in the year to come as the victims of Northern Ireland’s troubles are either forgotten or marginalised and the threads that bound the Good Friday Agreement are unpicked.

I had every expectation that Boris Johnson – a gifted and scheming man – would use words that were highly manipulative but I would never have predicted the same of Labour leadership hopeful Lisa Nandy.

I first met Nandy when she was a precociously smart 12-year-old. I stayed at her family home in Manchester in the heady days as of The Hacienda when I had been commissioned by Granada Television to present Hooked, an honest portrayal of the physical effects of recreational drugs. The producer was her mother Louise Nandy and, working with a tight budget, it was simpler to live in the Nandy family home as we criss-crossed the north of England filming the series.

Lisa’s mother and father were separated and so I never met her pioneering Indian dad, the Marxist Dipak Nandy – a leading figure in race relations in post-colonial Britain. In a famous inter-generational story that paralleled the lives of the Miliband Brothers, Dipak once told off his daughter for being too “right wing”.

I would not claim to know Lisa Nandy but I know enough about her to extend the benefit of quite considerable doubt. Last week, in an important and career-defining interview with Andrew Neil, she bungled her way through a question about Scottish independence and veered like a drunk driver into an horrendous car-crash of comparisons, claiming that a Labour Party that she might lead would learn the lesson of Catalonia and treat “divisive nationalism” accordingly.

Most people, including Neil himself, took it to mean strong-arm policing, brutal suppression at the ballot box and the mass arrest and imprisonment of political leaders. To be fair, she later tried to correct this impression by claiming that what she meant was for socialists to regroup and fight “divisive nationalism”.

The words “divisive” and “nationalism” will be familiar to anyone who listens to Labour Party politicians in the media. They studiously avoid other ways of describing the Scottish independence movement by other legitimate expressions – such as self-determination, self-governance, localism, progressive, grassroots, bringing power closer to the people, all of which are strands of the Yes tapestry.

Inconvenient as it may seem from a north of England perspective, literally tens of thousands of Labour voters and activists have haemorrhaged to the SNP and even now nearly 40% of surviving Labour members would vote Yes in an independence referendum.

As she tries to win back Labour across the whole of the UK, does Nandy consider them to be nationalists? Or are they merely trapped in false-consciousness, fair game for batons and mounted police when they next vote?

The word “divisive” is even more telling. Whilst claiming to be a force for healing within Labour, Lisa Nandy’s arguments are trapped in a divisive discourse. Only last week, after the horse had bolted over the hills and far away, she mounted a rearguard argument that the Labour Party should have supported a softer from of Brexit, which guaranteed free movement of labour. But not once did she back the SNP in the House of Commons when they argued for remaining in the free-market, the customs union or more directly for amendments that would have allowed for free movement of labour.

By consistently choosing to vote against the SNP in the campaign to soften Brexit, she put “divisive” tribalism first and in every speech she has made about the “real people” left behind by globalisation, she has asserted a tone of British nationalism, now so deeply dyed in the wool of politics that many can’t see it as nationalism.

I am relaxed about who wins the Labour leadership. All I hope is that a well-ordered ballot is held, that no-one is battered into submission by the trenchant brutality of a police state and that no-one is forced into exile for holding their views.