I FLEW back from Belfast recently in a strange dwam. In contrast to the bright winter day that had framed my flight out the previous morning our descent to Glasgow was shrouded in cloud and drizzle.

Perfectly usual; all things present and correct, you might say. Perhaps I'm reading too much into all of this, but the weather on that dull February morning contrasted perfectly with the previous day's sunny, crisp clarity and seemed to mirror my own thinking.

I'd gone over to join my good friends Rev Steve Stockman and Fr Martin Magill at 4Corners Belfast, where I was to sing some of my songs and have a conversation with Steve in front of an audience at the festival. All this went to plan, but my reading before, during and after drew me to the Troubles over the past 100 years. In particular, I was finishing Feargal Keane's memoir, Wounds, which tells the tale of his family's actions during the war of independence and the subsequent civil war.

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So many of Keane's reflections on war and peace, gathered from archiving his family's stories, resonated with the recent accounts of peace-making and community-building I was hearing on my visit. What became more obvious to me about Ireland – and about Scotland and the UK – was that the problem we face in breaking down patterns of resistance to positive change is our unflinching, brittle determination to be loyal to a set of perceived values which often lead nowhere.

Let me explain. I heard stories in Keane's book and through word of mouth at 4Corners that surprised, moved and troubled me. Here, I mean troubled in the best way; they caused me to stop and rethink what I believed. These stories came from people who could no longer afford to simply recite cant and cliche, but had to examine what they now believed against the reality of trying to stop their lives being dominated by fear, conflict and, inevitably, violence.

At the end of it came that beautiful Irish proverb which, translated, reads, ‘there are two versions of every story and 12 versions of every song.’ How very apt.

It made me reflect, too, on where we are in Scotland nearly four years on from our self-examination and nearly two years on from the Brexit vote. It's for those on the other side of those debates to consider their behaviour, but I’ve been thinking about my strident declarations over many decades of campaigning on various issues, and those of people on my own side of the argument. Difficult as that may seem, I realise that often what I thought I may have been trying to communicate was not what people heard. As a Jewish thinker said to me a few years ago, you may throw it out as anti-Israeli but we catch it as anti-semitic. There's the problem. Adapt that to any conflict and you can see where it leads.

This has been a month celebrating change. Quite rightly there has been a celebration of 100 years of women's suffrage, and social movements require discipline, resilience and enormous courage. Equally, and perhaps more desperately, peace-building requires people to be even stronger. Men and women in Northern Ireland who have looked into the abyss of civil conflict have had to ask how they can live with themselves and with others, knowing the horror of what has been done by them and to them. Despite this, these people have decided to step into their neighbour's shoes and attempt to see things from a different viewpoint. It doesn't happen across the board, of course – it happens in particular and isolated ways and in many cases with gritted teeth. But it happens significantly enough for peace to be enjoyed by a people who only knew war.

In Belfast I came across the story of Presbyterian minister, Ken Newell. He was the minister in Fitzroy, before my friend Steve Stockman came 10 years ago. Ken’s journey took him from being a Orange Lodge member to an ecumenical peace-maker in Belfast. He gave me a copy of his book, Captured By A Vision, which I’ve not been able to put down. In the introduction there is a memorable sentence which explains so much about religion and change: "In Northern Ireland," he explains, "we highly value stories of 'religious conversion' but are not too keen on people changing."

Perhaps that building of peace has come because those who have made the greatest change no longer believe that taking sides is the most important issue in their lives. Perhaps even I, who love the song so much I recorded a version of it, am now beginning to question whether Woody Guthrie was right when he asked, "Which Side Are You On?" Perhaps it's time for all of us to ask a different question?