SOMETHING about large groups of ordinary people gathering underneath banners and a common cause has always caused society’s elites to tremble. They experience a chill and pull their coats tighter around themselves for their privileges and advantages rely on order and control and on people knowing their place. When a huge body of loud and sweaty humanity takes to the streets in any modern setting there is a stir of echoes resonating down the centuries. For those who control society’s social arrangements these carry unpleasant memories: this was always how revolutions started.

I’d be surprised if there were many among the tens of thousands who marched for independence in Glasgow last Saturday who had revolution on their minds. This seemed a friendly and convivial affair which was as much to do with rekindling old friendships or a chance to see the children and the grandchildren as it was about agitating for self-determination. There will be plenty of opportunities to seek to win hearts and minds in the near future: Saturday was about the movement and about people reminding themselves that their cause remained as strong as it ever did in those heady days in the summer of 2014. It was a celebration and a way of saying to those who might be faltering that the desire is still there and the numbers have remained constant.

In Glasgow’s large and sprawling city centre, it was impossible not to know of the March for Independence. Even on those streets that did not lie in its path you could hear the distant din and tumult; the bells and the whistles. Here and there through the lanes and wynds that bind Glasgow’s grid system it was sometimes possible to catch a fleeting blue and yellow of a saltire or a lion rampant as the serpentine march birled through. I caught the smiles of recognition among shoppers in Sauchiehall Street and West Nile Street who, while they may not have been nationalists or indeed very political at all, nonetheless knew that this was a benign and pleasant thing and not the angry triumphalism of the Orange parades that annexe these streets throughout the summer months. Indeed even the dozen or so pro-Union counter-demonstrators were treated with good-natured courtesy and this, it has to be said, seemed to be reciprocated (give or take the odd fascist salute).

The reaction among some commentators among Scotland’s mainly Unionist press and media was a predictable one. There was barely concealed disdain and an all too discernible curl of contempt: “What did they hope to achieve”; “Haven’t they nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon”. The messages being conveyed were unmistakable: “You wouldn’t catch us making an exhibition of ourselves like that” and “they’re all a bit unkempt, aren’t they?”.

A similar sense of dismissiveness characterised the Unionist response in the latter stages of the independence referendum four years ago. Until then, you see, politics had always been a matter reserved for those who had entitled themselves to discuss it and to move within those exclusive circles where power seemed to reside. During the referendum campaign some of my colleagues in the press seemed at first to resent the manifestations of widespread political engagement breaking out all over Scotland.

For decades they had been accustomed to polishing their pre-agreed prose in quiet rooms close to Parliament, having learned by heart the argot that served as a password to gain entry to these places. Later they would spread out among the favoured taverns and salons of London and Edinburgh where politicians, lobbyists and journalists meet to preen and to congratulate themselves on their membership of such a specialised and exclusive club. To exercise power and to regulate its effects must be heady indeed but to have unfettered access to it carries its own intoxication. This is big and important stuff and not for everyone; if the great unwashed all felt they could do this too it would spoil the fun. Although they could make careers and wreck others and be well paid for it they recoiled in horror at the way social media opened up their work to an unprecedented level of rough scrutiny. They didn’t like it up ’em.

And so every opportunity was taken to revile and diminish any outbreaks of intense political engagement mainly among the independence community. Not only did these untutored upstarts not really know what they were talking about (how could they, not having studied at the right universities or attended the right sorts of schools?); but they seemed to think that politics was quite a simple matter and that anyone really could do it. If this idea of politics not really being that difficult or complicated caught on then, by jove, some of them might think they can just cut out the middle man and who knows how that might end?

The Scottish Labour Party in their struggle to maintain their balance on the shifting ground beneath them simply panicked and ran towards the Tories shouting about nastiness and division.

In recent weeks some angst has been evident at the sight of the Saltire. I’ve never quite understood this. I’m a bit ambivalent myself about getting wrapped up in a big St Andrew’s Cross and if I were to try the face-painting thing I’d probably get lifted for breach of the peace. But it seems we are never more than a few months away from the sorts of royal occasions or military commemorations which lead to widespread outbreaks of frenzied Union Jack-waving amongst the Unionist community. What is it about waving a Scottish flag which gives some commentators and Unionist politicians a fit of the vapours? You’d think it was a SAM-missile launcher they were brandishing and not a flag at all.

Before the dawn of something resembling democracy popular gatherings in the name of a political ideal were dealt with harshly by the authorities and occasionally a revolution, as it did in Russia, broke out. In Britain the Peterloo Massacre and the Spa Fields Riots marked the social discontent of the poorest people in 19th-century England. Even in more modern times the violence of the British state when it felt its powerbase being challenged was evident at George Square in 1919 and by the thugs of assorted police forces in England and Scotland during the miners’ strike in 1984. The right to assemble peacefully and to march together in a common cause is hard won and can never be taken lightly.

Last Saturday’s march for independence in Glasgow was a grand thing, though, and showed once more that the cause of determining our own future remains largely joyful and peaceful. Yet the response in some quarters revealed that some of the old suspicions and resentments remain.