On the matter of uncertainty and principle…

With all due apologies to students of quantum physics out there, Brian Feeney’s ‘poetic’ use of the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in today’s Irish News (£) to explain the SDLP’s apparent confusion over the last fortnight is too good to resist:

The principle suggests that the closer you get to establishing the position of a particle the harder it is to work out the speed of its movement [or rather its momentum – Ed]. Conversely the closer you get to working out its speed of movement, the harder it is to work out its position.

You will understand immediately that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies perfectly to the SDLP. What they have in common is that as soon as you think they know where they are at a given moment, they’ve moved the next time you look.

Touche! Although Feeney goes on to argue that the SDLP has broken the GFA [who hasn’t, already! – Ed], that won’t be clear unless and until Sinn Fein, or more likely Paul Kavanagh, successfully brings case to the European Court of Human Rights (97% of all cases lodged against the UK are dismissed as inadmissible).

More interestingly he points to a piece of research from Professors John Brewer and Bernie Hayes who’ve been working on a Leverhulme funded project at Queens.

The full examination of the qualitative data has yet to be fully processed and released, but they do have the results of a survey on attitudes across Northern Ireland towards four hard line populist policy options (I’ve requested sight of these).

The findings, psychologically at least, are interesting in light of the current debate:

We found that irrespective of the proposed sanction considered, individuals who had experienced victimisation – either directly, indirectly or both – were notably more likely to oppose these measures than those who had not.

Moreover, this relationship held even when a range of background characteristics, such as gender, socio-economic status and political identity, were included in the analysis.

That is to say, victims are less punitive toward ex-combatants than non-victims and much more tolerant than many of the hard line people who deem to speak on their behalf imply when they give voice to victims’ attitudes.

Though the professors also make this rather penetrating observation:

Part of the problem associated with the politicisation of victim issues is that the real voices of victims are often drowned by the political rhetoric of those who choose to place themselves in the position as their spokesperson.

Well, quite. Feeney’s point about uncertainty is well made against a party machine which should have been tightening the internal conversations, airing dissent and building an internal consensus before facing the political consequences of taking such a leap on the employment conditions of SpAds.

As for the politicisation of victims it is by now deep and inveterate within our solid state political ecosystem.

But it is interesting that victims as a subgroup of the whole NI population are looking for less recrimination than the rest of us who in the Professors’ terms have “experienced no direct or indirect conflict-related harm.”

Note too that the SpAd vote happened not at the behest of a group, nor a spokesperson, but one victim, moderate in her demands and speaking powerfully for herself and her family’s singular experience who (to borrow the dFM’s memorable terms) picked up the whole body politic at Stormont by the tail and swung them around their own political fundaments.

Perhaps there is a place for uncertainty and principle in politics after all? [Don’t hold yer breath though! – Ed]

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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