It has always struck me as peculiar that we tend to regard politicians who change their mind as somehow weak and unprincipled.
Yet changing your mind in the light of new evidence or experience is something all successful people do. As circumstances change, so should you. It makes basic evolutionary sense!
It was Bertrand Russell who said words to the effect that any intelligent person always leaves room for doubt – for a later change of mind, in other words, if evidence, experience or circumstance should change. Naomi Long perhaps simplified this point to “a change of mind is evidence you have one”.
Yesterday Trevor Lunn announced he had changed his mind on the issue of same-sex marriage. It took great courage to do that; in many ways it would have been easier not to (after all, his previous stance evidently did not affect his vote in May). A politician changing his mind, and doing so because it is right and not because it is necessarily popular, should be applauded. It is all too rare.
It will, of course, take one convert at a time to reach an Assembly majority. It should also be noted that those who were always in favour and who stuck by the party in order to act as persuaders, particularly in Lagan Valley, have been rewarded. Just as there is no future in being so hard-headed you’ll never change your mind, there is also no future in being so vehemently in favour of something you will not even enter into debate with those who see it differently in order to change minds. It may not be sexy, but persuasion and compromise work – hectoring doesn’t.
It would of course be a good thing if a few more politicians changed their mind; and also if, when they did so, they were as direct and open about it as Trevor Lunn was yesterday. It would be a good thing if a few Unionist politicians were open about the folly of their absolutist position of symbols and parades – for I do not believe they do not see it privately. It would be an even better thing if “Republicans” saw the nonsense of commemorating and acting as apologists for campaigns of violence which secured the direct opposite of their stated objective – for it is obvious that it what happened, whether 10 years ago or 100.
Think about a Northern Ireland in which a few politicians across the board simply turned around and said “You know, I’ve thought about it, I’ve spoken to a wider range of people, and I’ve noted the changed circumstances – so frankly, I’ve changed my mind”. Some would mock; but most would applaud, and our children would inherit a far, far better place.