NICOLA Sturgeon will command the Scottish headlines this weekend for her post-Brexit, indyref2 plans. And the response in the independence movement is already settling down into the familiar camps of the frustrated and the steadfast.

What, another constitutional convention? More “indy position papers” to add to the tottering pile? When do we directly challenge Boris’s diktat? Or: why risk reckless activism and disruptive action, when a section of previously sceptical No voters are slowly coming round to our sensibly argued case?

I found myself pondering a different angle on the First Minister’s intent and mentality this week – drawing together literature, neuroscience and emotional intelligence.

What are the common feelings we must draw on, or invoke, to secure a consistent indy majority? And what does Sturgeon know, or perhaps intuit, that many of us out there – gnashing our teeth on social media – do not?

In the current issue of the political magazine the New Statesman, they’re running an introduction that Sturgeon has authored for a new edition of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song. It’s a beautifully wrought essay – and quite an emotional revelation from the First Minister.

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She admits to crying – and challenges us not to cry – at those parts of Sunset Song which dwell on the traumatised brutality of the returning soldier Ewan Tavendale making a hell for his wife Chris Guthrie. Sturgeon says Guthrie also helped her understand “the love/hate (but ultimately love) relationship with the land that many of us feel” in Scotland.

Out of all the wisdom she takes from Grassic Gibbon, Sturgeon’s pre-eminent insight comes from “the conflict between tradition and modernity” that roils inside the novel’s heroine.

These are the “two Chrisses” within her, “that fought for her heart and tormented her”. One wanting to be free of the limitations and “coarse speak” of her community; the other still tied to “the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies”, as Chris muses in the novel.

You don’t need to be Umberto Eco (or Edwin Morgan) to read the messages being given off here. This is not a political leader with an overly starry-eyed take on the character and capacities of her people, or her own embodiment of them.

I want to add to this a startling quote from Sturgeon taken from her conversation with Arundhati Roi at the 2019 Edinburgh International Book Festival.

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“Literature for me is my way of maintaining equilibrium,” says Sturgeon, “of trying to deepen my understanding of the world we live in and gaining a perspective and an empathy that is so important, in my view, in the life of any political leader. I have a theory that if more political leaders read more literature, the world wouldn’t be in quite the state it is in right now.”

That’s quite a theory. And I can report, from some parts of my own research at the moment, that it has some substantial scientific back-up.

According to the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, “maintaining equilibrium” is the core purpose of all creatures that have feelings and a nervous system. His technical term for it is “homeostasis”.

At a very basic survival level, and for about 500 million years, organisms have experienced negative and positive feelings – informing them to recoil (or attack) threatening things, and embrace (and enjoy) enhancing things.

These “valences”, or survival emotions, persist right into the heart of the human condition. But our sapient uniqueness – our skills for language and imagination – is the way we can loosen ourselves (to a degree) from the grip of homeostasis.

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Unlike other mammals, we can consciously forge culture – “culture” meaning everything from religion and scientific inquiry, to a rock album and a great novel (not to mention policies and laws). And this “civilisation”, as Damasio often puts it, enables humans to flourish, not just survive.

How does this flourishing work? By trying to understand and anticipate the equally complex human creatures around us. The tools of that understanding can be, undoubtedly and gloriously, of a literary nature (as well as music, film, dance, drama etc).

So in her quest to use fiction-reading to “deepen her understanding of the world we live in and gain a perspective and an empathy” as a political leader, Sturgeon is onto something.

Yet dive a bit deeper into this “affective” (or emotional) neuroscience, and some political lessons about human nature begin to loom large.

For all the fizzing cultural creativity of our species, it says, we still have a deep drive – whether in our bodily or social systems – that yearns for stability. Primary emotions usually indicate what we should recoil from (fear, anger, disgust) and stretch towards (play, care, curiosity), on our way to achieving homeostasis (Damasio prefers the term “homeodynamic” for humans).

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But we know there are super-smart political operators, hawking their services from regime to regime at the moment. Their new political territory is the triggering and unsettling of these ancient emotions.

Indeed, you can directly read the Brexit slogans as a gaming of the deep human requirement for homeostasis. “Take back control” offers an angry moment of reclaiming power from a greater, destabilising authority. “Get Brexit done” then promises to restore stability to all the turbulence that was unleashed. Rinse and repeat.

This raises a question that me and many others have been rather gloomily asking ourselves. Does the indy case have to descend into these psychological trenches? Do we have to deploy messaging that destabilises and restabilises, blends aversion and attraction, just as skilfully as our opponents?

I don’t know the answer here – and it may be worth some more focused research. But from the perspective of Damasio’s work, at least, we might give Sturgeon’s steady-as-we-go approach more credit than it sometimes gets (from the more impatient of us).

What might it mean, as Sturgeon said yesterday, to respond to Johnson’s “goading”, by saying “when they go low, we go high” (a Hillary Clinton quote, which prompted a long burst of applause from the audience on yesterday morning)?

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Well, what it might mean, neurosocially, is to treat people like well-written fiction, rather than triggerable animals. Speaking of No voters on the turn to indy, Sturgeon urged yesterday that “we must show that we understand the complexity of the issues they grapple with. And that for many, emotions will be mixed”. How novelistic …

Conversation is the FM’s suggested tool – but I wonder whether the indy movement is as skilled in that as it needs to be. Simple rules of thumb like “listen twice as much as you speak” can be picked up – but there are fascinating initiatives (for example, Eddy Canfor-Dumas’s book The Talking Revolution) that can feed into activist practice.

In The Strange Order Of Things, Damasio’s response to populist manipulation was, I thought, a little obvious. We need deeper and wider forms of education, he urges – tools that keep us extending beyond our implicitly conservative needs to establish balance and coherence.

However, it may fit perfectly for this wee spot on the planet. Is a Scotland that is manifestly and continually deepening its understanding of itself, through mass higher education and a sophisticated cultural life, the best resistance to evolution-gaming button-pressers like Dominic Cummings? Maybe, to some degree, in the long term.

But Damasio also talks of culture’s “as-if” nature – imagining selves, situations, past/present/future, so we can occupy those positions and feel what it’s like to stand in those shoes.

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So I would hope, in the next few months of campaigning, that we begin to crank up the “as-if” possibilities for what a future independent Scotland would feel like. This has been a constant urging of Common Weal for many years – let’s see if these “New Scotland” papers cut it.

A great favourite of Sturgeon, the crime writer Val McDermid, has just released a book full of such as-ifs called Imagine A Country. Indeed, there are no shortage of Scottish imagineers around.

But I suggest that Sturgeon needs to be as formally bold in her envisioning of indy as many of the novelists that she enjoys and admires.

The end of A Scots Quair will do as a prompt. Euan Tavendale pulls on his boots to join an unemployed march, and his mother reflects: “That was the best deliverance of all, as she saw it, sitting there, quiet. That change will rule the earth and the sky and the waters underneath the earth.”