Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Free - or Fair?

One of the mantras of the Brexiteers since the vote has been that we should negotiate ‘free trade’ deals with lots of other countries rather than restricting ourselves solely to those in the EU.  And one of their great hopes has been that there will be an early deal with the USA.  During his long and meandering ramble last week, Trump had something interesting to say about his approach to trade deals.  In his own (inimitable) words, he said this:
“Now look, fair trade.  Not free, fair.  If a country is taking advantage of us, not going to let that happen anymore.  Every country takes advantage of us almost.  I may be able to find a couple that don’t.  But for the most part, that would be a very tough job for me to do.”
It’s perfectly clear – well as clear as anything Trump says.  Whilst the UK government think they’re going to negotiate a free trade deal with the US, he is interested only in ‘fair’ trade.  He didn’t actually define what that means, but we can be sure that it isn’t what most of us mean when we think of the ‘FairTrade’ campaign.  I suspect that he means trade which has a favourable, or at least neutral, balance for the US.  On that criterion, the UK’s current trade surplus with the US amounts to “taking advantage” and his objective will be to end that.  I can certainly see why that would be in the interest of the US, but why would anyone think that it’s in the interest of the UK?
But then, I don’t think that the UK government has ever been concerned about the detail; they just want a deal, any deal, to show what ‘global Britain’ can achieve.  From that perspective, the existence of a deal with the US is more important than its content, however harmful the latter may be.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Blair quandary

I agree with much of what Blair said last week – and there’s a sentence I never expected to write.  The response from the committed Brexiteers was entirely predictable, but he is right to say that in a democracy, people opposed to a decision, even one taken democratically, have every right to seek to change that decision, and to persuade others that they too should support a reconsideration of the question.
Given their professed great love for freedom and democracy, why are Brexiteers are so insistent in their demands that this one decision, uniquely, is something that can never ever be revisited?  I can only assume that it’s their fear of a different result.  I suspect that I’m not alone in thinking that one of the reasons that so many of them are keen on a quick exit and hang the consequences is that the longer the situation drags on the more obvious it will be that the outcome is not going to be the land of milk and honey that they promised us; and their real reasons for wanting Brexit had little to do with the promises which they made.
If the referendum decision had gone the other way, does anyone really believe that Duncan Smith, Farage and their ilk would have said “Oh well, that’s it then” and gone away to do something even less productive?  No, of course not – and it would be their right to continue making the case.  (In the same way, closer to home, those people opposed to the existence of the National Assembly – and indeed, in some cases, even to the existence of the Welsh nation itself – have every right to continue to campaign for its abolition.  I hope they fail, but I accept that the decision that Wales should become a political nation isn’t a once-and-for-ever decision; it’s something that we need to re-affirm continually.)
If, in either case – or indeed on any other issue – clear evidence emerges that public opinion has changed, then there is always a case for revisiting a decision.  And campaigning to bring about a change of opinion is a wholly legitimate form of political activity.  Blair wasn’t doing much more than making that simple point.  Merely asking for a second referendum with no evidence of a significant and sustained opinion shift seems to me to be futile; but working to bring about that shift is another matter entirely. 
On that point, it was obvious that Blair was deliberately avoiding the question of a second referendum - perhaps unwisely because it gave the impression that he believed the decision could somehow be changed without further reference to a democratic vote.  Whilst I too might prefer not to have referendums which reduce complex questions to a simple binary choice, in the case of Brexit that’s already been done and it is hard to see how those who voted to leave would consider a decision to remain after all to be legitimate without another vote.
Having said all of that, there is a problem with the personage of Blair.  I don’t understand how the man who took the UK to war in Iraq on the basis of an outright lie about weapons of mass destruction could stand there with a straight face and accuse the Brexiteers of having lied to get the result they wanted.  Pot, kettle, black – could he really not see the way that was going to be interpreted?  He has a serious credibility problem as a leader of any campaign given his history.
There is a ‘however’ to that, as well, though.  Given that the only debate which any of our mainstream politicians are prepared to engage in is about the nature of Brexit, who else is speaking out?  Most of the MPs who told us during the referendum campaign that Brexit would be a huge mistake for the UK have subsequently trooped through the division lobbies of the House of Commons in support of that which they told us would be a disaster.  And here in Wales, of the four party groups represented in the Assembly two are committed to full-on Brexit and the other two have decided to restrict themselves to whingeing about the detail.
So, this for me is the quandary.  For all my doubts about Blair as a leader of anything, who else is stepping up to the plate?  Is he really so toxic that it’s better to have no-one making the case than for him to do so?

Friday, 17 February 2017

Tax and migration

This story on ClickonWales yesterday did not provide a link to the report which formed the basis for it.  But it looks to me like the same report that I posted on last October.  And the detail is replete with all the occurrences of ‘may’, ‘could’, and ‘might’ that I noted at the time, all of which make it very non-robust as a basis for taking decisions on taxation.
One of the basic premises is that we can extrapolate the tendency of a difference in council tax rates to cause people to migrate between council areas to deduce the likely tendency of people to migrate between areas where different income tax regimes operate.  It requires some complex calculations about the differential impact of different taxes on a household, but in principle that premise seems to me to be reasonable.  However, it clearly requires a good understanding of the extent to which people move between council areas in response to different rates of council tax.  And their conclusions on that point seem to me to be a good deal less robust.
As I understand the methodology here, they’ve analysed large numbers of movements between different council areas, attempted to eliminate those which are due to other reasons which can be identified, and attributed the net remaining migration to the difference in council tax.  Have I oversimplified?  Yes, of course – but I believe that I’ve captured the essence of the approach.  For the purposes of academic research, it’s an entirely valid approach; without asking people why they chose to move, the reasons for that behaviour can only be deduced.  The problem is that such an approach does not provide hard evidence that all that migration was actually driven by council tax differentials.  I’d go further – it doesn’t provide hard evidence that any of the migration was actually driven by tax differentials.
Much of theoretical economics seems to be based on an assumption that human decisions are driven first and foremost by the perceived economic interests of those making them; that man is essentially an economic animal.  For the purposes of analysis and academic research, it’s a reasonable starting point, and it can produce some interesting results and hypotheses.  But one of the reasons why theoretical economics does not always accurately predict what actual people will do is that real living people take decisions based on a whole range of factors, not all of which are down to money.
I wouldn’t argue that ‘nobody’ will ever decide where to live based on the taxation regimes in operation.  Quite the reverse; we know that some very wealthy people choose to live in tax havens in order to maximise their own wealth.  But I suspect that the number is much more limited than a simple – or even a complex – economic model would predict.  One of the reasons for that is that single tax changes rarely apply in isolation; another is that what you get for your taxation varies as well.  So, whilst a lower income tax regime might attract some, a higher council tax regime in the same place, or a lower level of services supplied because of the lower tax revenues of the government, might offset that.
No doubt some will respond along the lines of, “yes, but what about the Laffer curve under which there comes a point where higher taxes become counter-productive and generate lower rather than higher revenue as the higher taxed seek ways to avoid paying their taxes.  The problem is that although the theory is clear and makes intuitive sense, hard evidence that it applies in practice is much harder to come by.  Academic theory isn’t always backed up by the actual behaviour of real people – some of the reasons for that have been touched on above.
The problem isn’t with the research and analysis itself; it’s useful and interesting in its own right.  No, the problem is when people attempt to use this sort of research as a justification for a particular tax regime which just happens to match their own ideological perspective.  In this case, it’s already been used by the Tories to justify their own predilection for low taxes.  And the article on ClickonWales sought to use it to justify opposition to further tax devolution.
There’s nothing wrong with arguing for low taxes as such, or even for a common taxation regime across different jurisdictions (although I wouldn’t agree); the problem comes when people start to argue that they don’t need to cut spending to pay for lower taxes because lower taxes will actually increase rather than reduce government revenue, or that differentials in tax rates will directly lead to migration, because the evidence offered in support of those positions is theoretical rather than based on hard facts.  We should always be wary of anyone offering us what looks like a free lunch.  And tax cuts with no matching spending cuts look a lot like a free lunch to me.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Apologies and short memories

I’m not a fan of the current tendency for politicians to continually demand that other politicians apologise for anything and everything.  It makes for easy headlines, and it’s easier than putting problems right, but it’s all a bit pathetic really.  The latest example is the leader of the Tory Assembly group demanding that all of those who predicted economic collapse after Brexit should apologise because their predictions haven’t come true.
As it happens, I agree with him that many of the predictions were over-egged.  Worse, they failed to make any distinctions over timescales, and specifically, between what would happen after the vote, what would happen between the vote and actual exit from the EU, what would happen immediately after Brexit, and what would happen in the long term.  Whether the claims were more or less misleading than the statement of those promising a non-existent £350 million a week for the NHS is a moot point.  Two wrongs don’t make a right, and arguing over which side told the biggest lies seems to me almost as pointless as arguing over who should give the biggest apology.
But for what it’s worth, I understood (and I'm sure that many others did as well) most of the predictions to be referring to what would happen after Brexit, rather than what would happen immediately after the vote, and from that perspective what Davies seems not to be recognising here, in his desire for a quick headline, is that Brexit hasn’t actually happened yet.  That’s a pretty good ‘get-out-of-jail’ card for anyone who predicted disaster post-Brexit, quite apart from making Davies just look plain silly.  He’s probably hoping that two years is such a long time that, when the inevitable effects of Brexit do kick in, the voters will all have forgotten the detail and will blame something else.  I wish I could believe that that hope was as silly as his demand for an apology, not least because the likeliest outcome seems to be that many will simply think that Brexit wasn't Brexity enough, and didn't do enough to deal with those immigrants who apparently cause all our problems...

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Who really benefits?

In yesterday’s post, I referred in passing to mathematically-challenged individuals who struggle to understand the difference between something which affects the average person and something which affects all people.  The context was assessing economic success, but that isn’t the only example that I can think of.  One which comes up regularly is the comparison of school spending per head between England and Wales.  It’s true that the ‘average’ gap is around £600 per head, but that gap is regularly misrepresented as meaning that all Welsh pupils are suffering because the expenditure on them is £600 less than it would be in England.
This story (which has appeared in a variety of publications in one form or another) shows another example of the same problem.  It is certainly true that, as people born in the ‘baby boom’ years (including myself, of course) reach retirement age, they are finding themselves better off, on average (that word again), than pensioners have ever been before.  And it seems that that means that the average (or more accurately in this case, ‘median’, which is not the same thing although the principle is much the same) pensioner income, after housing costs are stripped out (a far from insignificant adjustment, as the BBC Reality Check team notes, which appears to be being made in order to reach the desired conclusion) can outstrip that of working people.  That in turn has led to some people calling for either increased taxation on pensioners, or at the least, an end to the ‘triple lock’ basis for increasing pensions each year.
But ‘average’ and ‘median’ are not the same as ‘all’.  Whilst many newly-retiring people in the relevant age groups do indeed receive occupational pensions as well as the state pension, that isn’t true for all pensioners.  There are still plenty, even amongst those retiring now, for whom the state pension will be their only, or main, source of income post retirement.  And there are many still-living pensioners born before the relevant period who are still wholly dependent on their state pension.  Using an ‘average’ or a ‘median’ for the population as a whole in deciding the future of the triple lock would disproportionately impact those groups most dependent on the state pension.  It’s a poor basis for decision.  (And, as an aside, it’s also worth remembering that, because of the power of compounding over the long term, the chief beneficiaries of the triple lock aren’t today’s pensioners, but those who are yet to retire in the future – the very people who are being encouraged to oppose it.)
The organisation producing the latest report, the Resolution Foundation, describes itself as “a non-partisan and award-winning think-tank that works to improve the living standards of those in Britain on low to middle incomes”.  It’s a worthy aim in principle, but I wonder whether how genuine they are in that objective.  To me, an attempt to achieve that aim by reducing the rate of increase in the state pension looks like shifting income around between two groups of people in the low and middle income group, whilst ignoring the huge disparity between both of those groups, on the one hand, and the group with the highest incomes (regardless of age) on the other.  Whose interests are really served by encouraging low and middle earners in employment to think that their problem is caused by the share of income going to low and middle income pensioners rather than by the share going to the very rich?

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Turbo-charged hyperbole

The gist of this story yesterday seems to be that if the UK Prime Minister continues to pursue the only realistic option for Brexit rather than attempt the impossible sort which the Brexiteers actually promised, then Plaid might have to start talking about independence for Wales.  The implicit corollary is that if she caves in and asks for the impossible instead, then Plaid will continue not talking about the question of independence.  Mrs May must be quaking in her (probably very expensive) boots.  Or perhaps not.
But what really interested me was the claim by an anonymous spokesperson for the Conservatives in Wales that independence would be “a break from the most successful economic union in the history of the world”.  Even in the sphere of political hyperbole, “the most successful … in the history of the world” is quite some claim to be making.  I bet that the individual who came up with that one is quite proud of the phrase, and never gave a moment’s thought to its veracity or provability.
The first question is what they mean by ‘economic union’.  Perhaps they are defining it so narrowly that there are no suitable comparators.  In that case, the statement would be ‘true’, naturally; but it would also mean that the converse would be true, because in a field of one, the most successful would also be the least successful.  But let’s assume that they’re not depending on that type of sophistry, then with whom exactly are they drawing the comparison?
Well, there’s the EU itself, of course.  Many would see that as a pretty successful economic union, but the Tories obviously don’t, or they wouldn’t be so gleefully taking us out of it.  Then, of course, most European states were formed by ‘union’ between smaller entities.  Some unions were the result of agreements, others by judicious marriages, but mostly – just like the UK – the result of military conquest of some parts by others.  So Germany, France, Italy – from any objective perspective (difficult for Tories, of course, for whom exceptionalism is the norm) these are all economic unions in the same way as the UK.  Or how about the USA – that looks like an economic union to me as well.  Is the UK really more successful than all of those?
But hold on – their jingoism isn’t time-delimited; the comparison wasn’t just with current states, it was with the whole of human history.  So – more successful than the Roman Empire or Imperial China as well.  To say it’s a ‘sweeping’ claim is more than mere understatement.  Although I should put a caveat here – it is entirely possible that for the Tories, ‘history’ only started with the British Empire.
Next up, we have to ask what we mean by ‘successful’.  Normally, when people like the Tories start talking about the ‘success’ of the UK, they have at least half an eye to the fighting and winning of wars; it’s an essential part of their view of what makes the UK what it is.  But since they were referring on this occasion to ‘economic union’, I suppose we should restrict ourselves to considering economic success.  If we measure economic success through GDP per head (a reasonable measure), then the UK sits somewhere between 13th and 16th in the ranking tables (depending on which measure is used).  And not all of those countries ahead of it in the tables could be described as ‘unions’, although several can.  So, I suppose that had they said ‘one of the most successful in recent history’, they might have been closer to a truth of some sort, although it doesn’t have the same ring to it.  (And it does give them another problem as well in using this argument against independence for Wales - insofar as logic is of any concern to them, of course.  There may be few ‘unions’ above the UK in the table, but there are quite a few small independent states...)
And finally, we have to ask ourselves another, slightly more subtle, question – success for whom?  Even were they not facing the problems outlined above in justifying their statement, there is still the major problem that success for the whole is not at all the same thing as success for all the parts.  For all the ‘success’ that they claim for the ‘economic union’ which constitutes the UK, that success has not been equally shared.  It has accrued overwhelmingly to one part of the union, whilst other parts, and especially Wales in this context, have been left behind.  Confusing ‘average’ with ‘all’ is a regular problem for mathematically-challenged politicians, but in this case, as so often, the difference is a key part of the argument.
Taking the Tories’ claim at face value, the big question that they have completely failed to answer is this – if the UK is such a successful economic union, why does it appear such a failure from a Welsh perspective?  And the fact that they are unable or unwilling either to answer the question or to do anything about it underlines why taking control of our own affairs ought to be on the table (regardless of the nature of Brexit).

Monday, 13 February 2017

Perceptions of impartiality

It’s more than possible that the clear statement by the Speaker of the House of Commons that he will not support allowing President Trump to address both houses of parliament in Westminster Hall will be sufficient to ensure that the proposed state visit will not actually take place.  Given the massive ego of Trump, and his apparent hatred of Obama, relegating him to what he would probably see as ‘second-class’ status compared to his predecessor may well tip the balance in his own mind as to whether he will come or not.  Time will tell, but I can’t say that I’d be upset if the event were to be cancelled (diplomatic niceties of the past – which don’t necessarily apply to Trump – would probably have referred to a ‘postponement’ due to ‘diary problems’).
Bearing in mind some of the people who have been given the full works, it seems to me that there is a large element of hypocrisy from some of those opposed to according him the honour; but better to get it right this time than to repeat the error just because ‘we did it for so-and-so’.
The proposed state visit has, almost accidentally, raised the question of the extent to which the Speaker should be impartial, and whether he is entitled to express an opinion or not.  Much of the reaction seems to have more to do with whether those reacting agree with him or not; those who think he’s said the right thing praise him for being forthright whilst those who don’t attack him for failing to be impartial.  Choose another issue, and the same people would probably be arguing the opposite of what they're arguing at present.  But how impartial should he really be?
The tradition – always a ‘tradition’, never a rule – was that once appointed to the post of Speaker, the incumbent ceased to be a representative of his or her party and was elected unopposed for his or her constituency.  Like many traditions, there was some sort of justification for this in ancient history (becoming Speaker was not without some danger to the life of the incumbent), but it looks strangely outdated in the twenty-first century.  It leaves the people of the relevant constituency unable to select a representative to represent their views or to participate in the choice of a government.
It also confuses two very different things – holding a view and expressing a view.  The fact that an individual is, theoretically, barred from expressing a view on most issues doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t hold a view.  And failing to express a view merely guarantees the perception of impartiality; it doesn’t guarantee the fact of it.  I would have thought that it’s easier to assess whether someone is really being impartial in chairing any debate if his or her views are known than if we all simply pretend that they don’t exist.
It would be nice if Speaker Bercow’s words in this case led to a serious rethink about the reality and perception of impartiality, rather than simply a knee-jerk attempt to get rid of him.  In the end, though, neither will happen – our elected representatives are, as I’ve noted before, more wedded to tradition than to efficacy when it comes to their proceedings.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Bludgeoning their lordships

It’s not clear whether the suggestion from ‘a government source’ that the House of Lords could face abolition unless they ‘do their patriotic duty’ by voting for Brexit was a deliberate attempt to float something which could later be denied or simply a sign of incompetence.  As a rule, incompetence is the simplest solution when a government appears to contradict itself, but in this case I’m not so sure.  And, of course, the ‘source’ didn’t actually suggest that the government would move to abolish the Lords; merely that there might be an ‘overwhelming’ public demand that they do so.
It’s entirely possible that there are some in government who would want to put the frighteners on their noble lordships – well on those lords awake enough to notice, anyway.  And it could be argued that it’s not so much a threat as a prediction; given the tabloid outbursts against the ‘treacherous’ judges who dared to uphold the law over Brexit, it is wholly conceivable that those same tabloids will turn against the Lords if they dare to even suggest amendments to the Brexit Bill.  And they won’t even have the potential fear of being held in contempt of court to temper their language.
There’s something very ironic, though, about the idea that the Lords might eventually be abolished by a Conservative government, with the full support of the right-wing press, after Labour’s abject failure to deal with the problem whenever they’ve had the opportunity over the last century.  And if it comes to pass, is it even conceivable that we would see Labour rushing to defend the institution?  I’d like to think not, but these days, who knows?
At one level, it could be a case of the proverbial ‘ill wind’, if the Brexit process were to be the catalyst leading to the wholly desirable outcome of abolishing an institution which is hopelessly outdated, and which has survived for as long as it has only because our elected representatives are more wedded to tradition than to democracy.  There is a danger, though, of looking at only one part of the problem, namely that part which acts as some sort of restraint on the executive.
Most of the arguments for having a second chamber at all are to do with the failings of the first chamber.  And those problems were well illustrated by the way in which the Brexit Bill was conceived, written, and rammed through the House of Commons.  They call it ‘scrutiny’ and ‘holding the government to account’.  In reality it was neither.  Arguing that we need a second chamber to provide the scrutiny which the first fails to provide, and that it needs to be unelected because that’s the only way it can be free enough to do the job, serves only to underline how seriously deficient are the House of Commons and its processes.
I’d be delighted to see the Lords abolished, and the sooner the better.  But let’s not overlook the concurrent need for reform of the Commons to ensure that it isn’t just a rubber stamp for the government of the day.  And that reform probably needs to start with Proportional Representation.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Heads they lose, tails they also lose

The prospects for Labour in the Stoke by-election are apparently not looking good, and many are predicting that UKIP may take the seat.  Time will tell; but it seems to be causing a degree of panic in Labour ranks already, with some predicting this as the first of the dominoes.  The reaction, by and large, is to argue that Labour have to follow the opinion of the electorate even more closely than they have been doing to date, in order to shore up their own vote and attract votes from the Tories and UKIP.
I’m not at all convinced by the idea that electors carefully weigh up the policy positions of the different parties before casting their vote.  Decades of experience of actually talking to voters on doorsteps has led me to believe that perceptions, prejudices, and history have at least as much to do with it.  The classic example was the gentlemen who told me that he and his wife would be voting Plaid “because Labour and the Tories gave away the empire”.  (The only possible response was to thank him politely and move on to the next house…)  The idea that electors are carefully studying manifestoes and policies before coming to a rational decision owes more to theory than to practice.
But, just for a moment, let’s suppose that the situation is otherwise; that electors en masse are indeed deciding how to vote based on whether the parties’ policy positions match their own views.  We know that around two-thirds of all those who voted Labour in the 2015 election went on to vote ‘remain’ in the EU referendum.  That means that Labour ‘lost’ around one-third of their vote to the opposing camp.  I can see why they’d want to get those people back – but merely switching sides and supporting the Brexit demanded by one-third of their own support means going against the views of the other two-thirds.  In our scenario of rational vote decisions, aren’t they in danger of losing more than they gain?
The first counter argument would be that even 100% of the support that they gained in 2015 wasn’t enough; they need to eat into the support of their opponents in order to get a majority in parliament.  That’s true, in simple mathematical terms.  But not all of those who voted against them went on to support Brexit and a clamp-down on freedom of movement.  And in targeting the section of the electorate which did, aren’t they, again, in danger of losing much of the support that they already have?
The second counter argument would be that there is a base level of support that will always be with them, whatever they say and do.  It’s what has often, rather unkindly, been called the ‘donkey vote’, on the basis that this group would vote for a donkey if it was wearing a Labour rosette.  Again, it’s probably true, but it means refining our starting scenario.  We are now assuming that the majority of voters will vote based on perception, prejudice, history etc., but that there are a minority to whom a change of policy will appeal, and it is this group to which Labour’s new-found enthusiasm for Brexit and control of freedom of movement is designed to appeal.
That feels more realistic, but it raises another question.  If this group of electors can really be persuaded to support one party over another based largely on whether the parties in question support Brexit and immigration controls, why on earth would they switch their alliance from UKIP or the Tories, who are clearly committed to that position, to a party which looks as though it is adopting that position with the sole intention of shoring up its vote?  Why vote for an imitation rather than the real thing?
It seems to me that the rush by Labour to jump on the bandwagon is doomed to fail.  It is not only unlikely to attract those who have long been hostile to immigration and the EU; it is also likely to repel those who see the benefits of both.  Worst of all, it legitimises and reinforces the UKIP message.  Yet still some people in Wales insist on portraying Labour as a ‘progressive’ force.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The problem with the 'n' word

One of the problems with words is that they can mean one thing to the person using them, but be interpreted to mean something else by those hearing them.  Sometimes, that difference is entirely intentional; it’s a way of twisting what someone has said to mean something that they haven’t said. 
The word ‘nationalist’ is a case in point.  When I use the word, I mean someone who seeks the same status and rights for his or her own nation as are granted to other nations.  In the Welsh context, I’m referring to those of us who believe simply that Wales should take control of its own future by becoming a free and independent state.  However, some people use the term to refer to people who have an excessive sense of patriotism and pride in their own nation, whilst yet others use it as a term to refer to those who believe that their nation is somehow better or superior to any other.
One of the problems is that it’s impossible to say that any of those definitions is either right or wrong; dictionaries will quite happily give all three definitions as valid.  But that doesn’t mean that anyone falling into one of those categories must automatically fall into the others as well; they’re alternative definitions rather than different aspects of a single definition.  That confusion does cause problems, though.
Over the many years that I spent canvassing, I lost count of the number of times someone would say to me on a doorstep something along the lines of “I’ve seen what nationalism does and I want no part of it”.  It’s an entirely natural reaction to one of those definitions coupled with a difficulty in understanding that there are alternative definitions.  I won’t argue that it hasn’t been difficult dealing with this confusion between different meanings, but for decades I’ve felt that the tide was, slowly, turning; as the worst excesses of one type of nationalism receded into the past, so it was becoming easier to reclaim the term for the meaning which I give it.
Sadly, I feel that things are now moving the other way.  We’re seeing a rise in the sort of nationalism which I thought had been confined to history, and it isn’t pleasant to see.  ‘America First’ seems to be a catchy slogan whose real meaning is that ‘what we say goes’, and it is tinged with elements of white supremacism and religious discrimination to boot.  In several European states, we’re seeing the rise of parties expressing hostility to people who are in any way ‘different’ from the perceived ‘norm’.  The US actually wants to build a wall to delimit itself from its neighbour and here in the UK, we now have a government led by people who want to close the borders, and who take pride in the idea that we should ‘punch above our weight’ when it comes to determining the world order. 
By and large, British – or, in this context, mostly English – politicians love to say that they are not nationalists.  But as R Tudur Jones put it in “The Desire of Nations” in 1974: “An Englishman never calls himself a nationalist.  This is one of the characteristics of English Nationalism.”  English/British nationalism has always been there on the right of UK politics, in that attitude of superiority which so sets them aside from those mere Europeans and foreigners.  But the Labour Party has often been little better.  I found the speech by Keir Starmer in the Article 50 debate to be a particularly powerful expression of Labour’s hypocrisy on the question.  He said, “We are a fiercely internationalist party.  We are a pro-European party.  We believe that through our alliances we achieve more together than we do alone.  We believe in international co-operation and collaboration.  We believe in the international rule of law.  These beliefs will never change.” 
Having said that, he went on to say that the majority of Labour MPs would be voting against their unchangeable and unshakeable beliefs and for the British exceptionalist and nationalist stance being proposed by the government.  And they went on to do precisely that, despite the fact that the majority of people who voted for Labour MPs were opposed to what those MPs were voting for.
I am finding it increasingly difficult to justify using the word nationalist to describe my own position when the worst type of nationalism is rearing its ugly head all around us.  In Catalunya, there is a potential solution; the word often used there is independentista rather than nacionalista.  Independentist doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue in English (although annibyniaethwyr has a certain ring in Welsh), but perhaps we could get used to it?