FIRST up was Jess Phillips when she was still in the Labour leadership race. “Nationalism,” she declared, “is a threat to working people”. Then Lisa Nandy added that they know how to deal with “divisive nationalism” in Spain. She insists that this didn’t mean locking up politicians and sending in riot police.

Lady Nugee (Emily Thornberry to you and me) then came straight out with it last week. “I hate the SNP, I really do,”,she said, “I think they are Tories wrapped up in nationalist clothing.” At least she was honest. And to be fair, the feeling is reciprocated by many Scottish nationalists.

Finally, Sir Keir Starmer arrived in Scotland yesterday to condemn the “upsurge of nationalism” and promise a new federal constitution. He wants Boris Johnson to set up a constitutional convention. Well, good luck with that.

Sir Keir has inherited the dubious mantle of Gordon Brown. He’s offering a constitutional settlement that he knows is not going to happen because England is quite happy with its parliament, thanks very much. There’s no demand. Like Mr Brown, Sir Keir opposes “narrow and divisive nationalism” which seeks to split the country and foment atavistic antagonisms. A bit like Brexit, indeed, at least in the eyes of arch Remainers.

Of course, it is is always someone else’s nationalism that is divisive, not your own. Mr Starmer doesn’t object to his rival, Rebecca Long-Bailey, calling herself a “progressive patriot”. The declension is: I am a patriot; you are a nationalist; they are bigots.

The equation of nationalism with nativism, populism and fascism is deeply ingrained in Labour. It dates from George Orwell’s essay “Notes on Nationalism” published in Polemic magazine in 1945. Liberal-left thinking on the subject hasn’t really changed since then.

To Orwell, nationalism is a kind of psychological deformity – he compares it with schizophrenia – which infects every aspect of the person’s thinking, such that they can no longer accept reality.

“He will generally claim superiority,” Orwell explains of the typical nationalist, “not only in military power and political virtues, but in art, literature, sport, structure of true language, the physical beauty of the inhabitants and perhaps even in climate, scenery and cooking. He will show great sensitiveness about such things as the correct display of flags, relative size of headlines and the word in which different countries are named.”

Well, we all know what he’s talking about here. There have certainly been currents of ethnic exceptionalism in Scottish nationalism. Flags do seem to matter rather a lot, and there was that row about the size of the BBC weather map.

But this idea of nationalism as inherently evil was heavily coloured by the times. The atrocities conducted by the Nazis were only becoming fully known in 1945. National Socialism was what Orwell was really talking about. His essay serves as a very poor discourse on the question of nationalism.

After all, Orwell was writing from a country, Great Britain (or as he generally calls it, England) which displayed many signs of the nationalism he deplores. More than any country except perhaps Russia, the Brits mobilised Orwellian nationalism to win the war against fascism.

Flags? We got em. The Battle of Britain, the Dunkirk Spirit, Churchill in his jump suit. It was Orwell himself who extolled the virtues of English culture – “old maids cycling to communion through morning mist” – in the wartime Lion and the Unicorn.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. In many ways his affectionate portrait of “English civilisation” as he called it was accurate. But Orwell’s England betrayed all the symptoms of his own nationalist pathology.

Britons were fighting explicitly for a colonial empire in the Second World War. The British Empire (in which Orwell served in the Indian Imperial Police force) may not have been as brutal as some that went before it and there were some positives. But it was still founded on military occupation and material exploitation.

Nor was Britain’s conquest of the Axis powers entirely issue-free. The fire-bombing of German cities like Dresden, which killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, was justified at the time in terms of military necessity. But today it would be regarded as a war crime. Then there was Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The truth is that Orwell was an English nationalist and his essay is a myopic product of its time. All nationalisms are not the same. Some are better than others.

The Left has generally, and rightly, supported nationalist movements in developing countries as anti-colonialist. This even though many of the freedom fighters went on to become ruthless dictators, like Robert Mugabe.

Nationalism is slippery. It can be good and bad at the same time. This is why one of the best writers on Scottish nationalism, Tom Nairn, always called it “the Modern Janus”. Nationalism invariably looks both ways. It can be reactionary or progressive, depending on circumstances.

Since the American Revolution, nationalism has generally gone hand in hand with democracy, at least initially. 1848 may have been the year Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, but at the time it was called the “Springtime of Nations”. Nationalist movements in countries like Hungary, Denmark and Italy demanded autonomy, democracy and self-determination.

Nationless democracy is an oxymoron. Democracy requires a national culture and defined borders if it is to work at all. It’s no accident that Labour’s 1945 Government set up the NATIONAL Health Service. Or that state ownership is called nationalisation. You can’t nationalise other countries.

This does not mean that nations cannot work together and co-operate in multinational entities like the European Union. Brussels has often behaved like an unelected bureaucracy, but the EU itself is run by and for independent nation states. Key decisions are made by a council of nations exercising a national veto.

Scottish nationalism is determinedly pro-European, while Brexit nationalism is anti-European. They are both expressions of nationalism but with very different orientations. Labour’s one-size-fits-all depiction of nationalism as essentially reactionary and racist will not help it recover support in Scotland.

The truth is that the vast majority of Scots could be described as nationalists, by Labour’s definition, even those who don’t vote SNP. This is simply because Scotland is and always has been a nation in its own right. And most citizens want their politics based on that.

Read more: We're heading for a hard Brexit on Friday, but it needn't have been this way