MY days of joining marches started in a gloriously indolent first year at university. My attendance record at English lectures was patchy bordering on non-existent but I was rarely absent whenever the chance presented itself to annexe one of the queen’s highways in mass protest.

These opportunities also helped assuage a guilty conscience. More often than not I body-swerved these tutorials as they were hosted by a septuagenarian Oxford don using 50-year-old notes on how to criticise Childe Harold. But when you were marching up Sauchiehall Street to support the miners or nuclear disarmament you felt that Lord Byron, mad, bad and dangerous to know, might have understood and approved.

Later, I graduated to small and more rarefied gatherings such as supporting the rights of disenfranchised African peoples.

I also beseeched Ronald Reagan to get America’s mitts off Nicaragua and El Salvador and Margaret Thatcher to get her troops out of Ireland. The left had all the best protests and there was always the promise of a worthwhile swallette at the end of the day and the hint of romance with scary and sophisticated radical feminists with whom I was always miles out of my depth.

My dad was a committed trade unionist and encouraged me to “get involved and get active”. The governing classes, according to him, always get jittery when thousands of ordinary people come together under one cause. “This is how all the best revolutions start,” he said, “so never disparage them.”

The days when the armed representatives of the British state deployed murderous violence to stop seditious gatherings of curmudgeonly-looking people are thankfully behind us.

In Derry not so very long ago, the British army murdered 14 innocent civilians following a march for human rights and shot another 14. It took 47 years for the UK establishment to select a single soldier as a scapegoat for the brutality of many of his comrades.

Around half-a-century earlier, the British army upheld the same lofty principles of engagement by slaughtering hundreds of unarmed Indian civilians at Amritsar.

The previous century, similar tactics were used by the British state when dragoons charged a protest at St Peter’s Field in Manchester and killed 18 unarmed and peaceful civilians.

They had gathered to support parliamentary reform four years after thousands of soldiers who had fought in the brutal Napoleonic wars found the same conditions of deprivation and inequality awaiting them on their return. Britain was quite happy to sacrifice them in defeating the French but less so when they sought to improve their lives and finally turned on them when they began to get stroppy about it.

The British state still gets a bit twitchy at the prospect of large gatherings of the wrong sorts of people but at least they are a bit more civilised at dealing with them these days. Now they simply direct trusted voices in the print and broadcast media to disparage them. Thus they are dismissed as “populist” and clever-clog commentators express disdain for all the flag-waving while asking why they don’t appear to work regular office hours.

Sometimes they ask why they these scruffs always choose to disport themselves in weekend leisurewear of the type that ought only to be used when harrying and shooting small animals. Perhaps if they turned out in suits and bowler hats they might be better received.

Curiously, something of this attitude has become apparent in responses to recent marches for Scottish independence. The most recent one, in Glasgow two weeks ago, attracted around 35,000 if you believe the police and at least double that if you believe other sources.

These marches have become a feature of the wider Yes movement in the post-2014 referendum era. They are invaluable in maintaining the network of alliances and friendships that moved the Yes vote from 22% to 45% in such a short space of time prior to the first independence vote. They are also vital in maintaining a positive spirit in the face of reports that the movement has had its day and that interest is waning.

Perhaps most important of all, though, is that they simply provide an opportunity for families and friends from a wide assortment of backgrounds and persuasions to renew acquaintances in a friendly and positive atmosphere.

As yet, there has been no assessment of the economic spin-offs for local economies but I’d expect them to be considerable. Many of the right-wing press which choose to belittle them and patronise the marchers are otherwise keen to restore an old-fashioned Britishness when we lived in simpler, less complicated times and a previous generation conducted itself in a happy-go-lucky manner pursuing simple pleasures

These independence marches hark back to those times, providing a cheap day out and old-fashioned fellowship without a hint of drink-fuelled menace. So, what’s not to like?

Well, obviously, the sight of so many Saltires and Lions Rampant in close proximity will always engender some teeth-gnashing in the usual quarters. But there’s something else going on here and, sadly, some voices who purport to be supporters of Scottish nationalism also seem keen to mock and become condescending.

“They achieve nothing and are merely expressions of unthinking populism,” they say. In this, I think, it’s possible to observe the arrogance of self-styled intellectuals and the political elitism which they espouse. Politics has to be something more lofty than that which is so easily accessed by maw, paw and the weans all marching and flag-waving and eating Funny Faces, hasn’t it?

You rarely see any of the SNP’s Holyrood or Westminster groups at any of these gatherings. These politicians were all handed their salaries and expenses and taxpayer-funded second homes and their subsidised drinks on the terrace by the votes of the people who go on these marches with their uncomplicated hopes and expectations. I’d like to see the SNP’s elected representatives show a bit more gratitude and humility by attending these marches in far higher numbers.

But all that flag-waving and marching and shouting and tribalism is frowned upon these days. And of course they don’t want to become tarnished by association with this unkempt and unruly sort of populism. Because, who knows, one day they might need to look for a nice, well-paid lectureship in the John Smith Faculty of Public Entitlement and Privilege, teaching a Bachelor of Backscratching degree.

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