IS the word nationalism a problem for the Scottish independence movement? Confronted with that question at Edinburgh International Book Festival, Nicola Sturgeon’s response was honest and mature. She went so far as to suggest that, with the benefit of 90 years' hindsight, the name Scottish National Party might not have been the best choice.

You would expect that admission to be graciously acknowledged by those in the Union camp who claim to be concerned at the intensity of Scotland’s Yes-No divide. You might even hope they would welcome the First Minister’s consistent opposition to blood-and-soil ethnic nationalism.

Not a bit of it. Instead we got a volley of tired jibes designed to inflame rather than inform the debate over Scotland’s future. Douglas Alexander threw a Twitter tantrum, equating Nicola Sturgeon with Trump and Putin.

After losing his Paisley seat to an audacious 20-year-old student, Mhairi Black, his bitterness is perhaps understandable. And if this were an isolated outburst from a vengeful former Cabinet minister, his remarks could easily be dismissed with the contempt they deserve. But this is part of a continuous and insidious smear campaign against the entire independence movement, whose purpose is to deny the legitimacy of those who believe in national equality.

The word nationalism is a convenient weapon. After all, wasn’t Adolf Hitler a nationalist? And Slobodan Milosevic? “Nationalism is about exclusion, not inclusion,” tweeted Douglas Alexander. “Patriotism needs no enemy while nationalism demands one.”

I don’t label myself a nationalist, or even a patriot. I’m a democrat who believes in decentralisation. I’m an egalitarian, who believes in gender, racial, class and national equality. I’m an optimist who believes that that an independent Scotland would be a force for social progress in a world lurching dangerously to the right.

And I take serious objection to politicians and journalists who suggest I have anything in common with the Nazi Party, the Ku Klux Klan, or the English Defence League.

And in any case, as a BBC newsreader might put it, other brands of nationalism are also available. “It is impossible for one to be an internationalist without being a nationalist,” said Mahatma Ghandi. He also said: “Our nationalism can be no peril to other nations in as much as we will exploit none, just as we will allow none to exploit us.”

Or how about Nelson Mandela, who proudly proclaimed himself an African nationalist?

Would anyone seriously suggest that Mussolini shared the same ideology as James Connolly or Constance Markievicsz, who fought for national independence and socialism in Ireland? Or assert that Carme Forcadell, president of the Catalan Parliament, campaigning for a progressive, socially just independent Catalonia, is a political soulmate of Francisco Franco?

Exactly the opposite. “Better even a red Spain than a broken Spain,” was one of the slogans of Franco’s Falangists, who bombed the Basque Country, closed the Catalan parliament and unleashed vicious persecution against the language and culture of both nations.

The word “nationalist” has different meanings in different contexts. So too, for that matter, has the word “socialist”. Jeremy Corbyn calls himself a socialist. But so too did Josef Stalin, Pol Pot and Nicolae Ceacescu. And Keir Hardie, Jimmy Maxton and John Smith.

So, let’s have a proper debate rather than a silly name-calling exercise – the adult equivalent of calling your teacher a fascist.

I disagree with the SNP on some issues, and I’ve never shied away from criticising the Scottish Government where I think it’s got it wrong or is too timid.

But it’s to the credit of the SNP that it stands steadfast against any attempt to turn the debate on Scotland’s future into an ethnic conflict. We all know that in the 2014 referendum, the bigoted, xenophobic, racist right stood solidly on the side of Unionism. And they’ll be back come the next referendum, Nazi salutes and all.

They’re a tiny minority, granted. But they’re much more deserving of condemnation by former and present Labour politicians than make-believe white Scottish supremacists on the Yes side.

One more jibe made by Douglas Alexander in his Twitter soliloquy needs to be challenged. “The core belief of nationalists is victimhood,” he told us in his distinctive sanctimonious tone. “The grievance is constant.”

Strip this down to its bone and what this discarded politician turned strategic adviser to a global corporate law firm seems to be saying is: “Sit down, shut up and do as you’re told.”

I can’t speak for everyone in the independence movement, but one of my core principles is to stand up against injustice and support those who suffer. That, indeed, was the core principle upon which the Labour movement itself was founded – to represent the victims of an unfair society, and to figure out ways of protecting them.

HERE in Scotland, we can’t protect everyone. We don’t have the numbers, so we’ve never had the political clout to change the UK. We were powerless to defend the poor and vulnerable of Scotland, let alone London, Liverpool and Newcastle against the Thatcher government because we were voted down in election after election.

And we can’t protect them now from the benefit cuts and austerity driven by a Tory government on behalf of the UK financial elites.

And we still have grievances aplenty. We have more than a million people in Scotland in 2017 who live in poverty, while extreme wealth screams out at us daily from TV screens, websites, newspapers and magazines. So, let’s use the word victim because that’s what they are – victims of successive Tory and New Labour governments over the past 40 years. And we know from long and bitter experience that we are powerless to protect them within the UK state.

Call that the politics of grievance if you like, I don’t care. I’d just remind Douglas and his friends that for generations, trade unionists, socialists – yes, and Labour politicians too – were accused by the Tories of indulging in the politics of grievance and victimhood. Don’t rebel, complain, don’t rock the boat. Very convenient for those with wealth and power.

Those of us fighting for something better have nothing to apologise for. It’s the Douglas Alexanders and his former comrades who should be saying sorry for their failure to protect the victims of rampant free market capitalism for decades, before swanning off to prance around in ermine in the House of Lords, or to collect six-figure salaries from the Pinsent Masons of the world.