DON’T be bravehearts but appeal to cool and rational heads. This is advice given this week to the independence movement by a former pollster and adviser to some recent Tory occupants of 10 Downing Street.

Given the sheer Machiavellian murk of UK politics at the moment, you’d be tempted to say: do the opposite of whatever this carefully-placed piece (an op-ed column in a London liberal paper) asks you to do. But even if this is a move made in someone else’s 5D-chess game, the case made is of interest.

Apparently, we’re dealing with 45% Yes, 45% No – and thus both sides in any indyref2 should be focusing all their attention on the 10% of persuadables. Exultant patriotic videos (a rough cut of a post-Brexit special, we’re told, is currently touring Whitehall) may fire up the base on either side (and contrarily). But they leave these Scottish persuadables unmoved.

Again, our charming new Tory friend tells us that the 10% (so small? One might argue with that) are “hard-headed and likely to be motivated by economic self-interest”. Top concerns polled include England as our biggest market, and Scotland being unable to rejoin the EU – but also that “things surely couldn’t be worse”, and “they’re just scaring us with Project Fear”.

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Suavely, the political consultant concludes: “For both campaigns, the fight will be existential. The Unionist side will need to know their audience. They will need to not get sucked into emotion, but play in practical and economic territory. They will need the right messenger as well as the right message. All will be to play for, and the preparation should start now.”

Hmm, and hmm again. “Prepare now” is the only accurate bit of this. The rest, to be polite about it, stinks. Are we expected to believe that a UK Government which won two contests jabbing at the primal emotions of insecurity and exhaustion – with three-word slogans (“Take Back Control” and “Get Brexit Done”) repeated hypnotically and robotically – are going to only “play in practical and economic territory”?

They freely and continually invent facts to support their emotional messaging, day by day in government. And now we’re invited to expect they’re going to behave like dull empiricists in indyref2?

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Consider also the remnants of the No campaign, like Blair McDougall and Rob Shorthouse. They have frankly admitted that their 2014 victory was impossible without “scaremongering”. (They also seem to have bequeathed the Western World the immortal phrase “Project Fear”. What a legacy).

The National: Blair McDougallBlair McDougall

So I am deeply suspicious of opinion pieces like this. I think the writer is making his tiny little attempt to drain the affective, inspirational juice out of the indy campaign.

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He implicitly invites us to present our “facts” as better and stronger than the UK’s. And so, as we craft our neat little practical offers, they’ll be brewing up a storm of messaging Dementors … You have been rumbled, mate.

My confidence in calling this out also comes from my deep reading in neuroscience, biology and psychology at the moment. There’s one thudding message that comes from the works of George Lakoff, Drew Westen, Antonio Damasio, Jaak Panksepp, Jonathan Haidt and many others.

Anyone denying that emotional commitments come before cognitive and rational ones is ether a fool, or disinforming us. Indeed, our emotions compel us to seek the facts and arguments that confirm these feelings – not the other way round.

The political question of the age is, though: what emotions do you need to trigger or elicit, and to what ends?

This is an emerging field, being explored here by an opportunistic layman – so do your own reading. But there are some lessons for messaging in the indyref2 campaign that seem inescapable.

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One is that we ignore the power of primary emotions – our reactions to the world that we take from evolution, and even share with other mammals and creatures – at our peril. Panksepp and Damasio call these emotions “visceral” – meaning they come from our viscera, our inner body. We are literally gripped by them, involuntarily and preconsciously. This is because they are survival responses that have served us well – indeed, preserved us well – over millions of years.

Fear, anger and panic are the most negative emotional systems, residing deep in our brains and bodies. The point of a “Project Fear” is to trigger a visceral response – to frighten people so badly with the consequences of an action, that they associate any similar act with that horrifying emotion.

The National: A Unionist as that patronised women aired during the indyref campaignA Unionist as that patronised women aired during the indyref campaign

Thus the socio-economic ruin, potential rise in terrorism and asteroids, comparisons to bloody dictators – and much more: remember? – from the Better Together campaign.

Panic, as an emotional system, is also relevant in sovereignty politics. It’s generated, literally by “anxiety about separation”. This is the threat of being wilfully disconnected from those who support and confirm you: parents, wider kin, friends, community.

It’s easy to see how that end of the primal dashboard is played, in indyrefs past, present and future. And there’s some tough news here. These “aversive” emotions jerk us a few times more powerfully than the positive, “attractive” emotions. But the latter do exist. And at that end of the dashboard may lie the keys to a referendum victory.

Panksepp and Damasio define the “flourishing” (rather than “defensive” and “protective”) primal emotions as lust, care, play and seeking. Perhaps we can confine the lust system to its quarter

But care, play and seeking, though not as powerful as their more desperate companions, are also vital for survival. Care’s value is obvious. It’s as involuntary and evolutionarily essential as anger: without care, the fragile human infant quickly perishes.

But to firmly associate your “Project” with care is an extremely potent act. For example, the project might want to build a society, which at every level nurtures, protects and develops us all.

Could this be why there is a relentless assault on the health and social record of the current SNP Government by the forces of reaction, and their media amplifiers?

At all costs, the idea that voting for independence could institute a more caring society, would keep us safer and make us stronger, must be utterly discredited.

The play and seeking emotional systems may seem more nebulous, less vital than the previous ones. However, they wouldn’t be there if they hadn’t served an adaptive purpose for us.

Seeking is the curiosity and appetite that every organism has – its need to explore and sense the wider world, trying to identify enemy or friend, resource or predator. And play is what complex animals like us do when we need to test out the possible ways we might live together, but without risking the injuries of actual fighting or challenge.

Play and seeking basically ask this question of any human: Are you up for it? Do you want to try out something better, some alternative, which might be better than the niche you’re currently stuck in?

I watched the quiet, rather beautiful SNP online ad yesterday, using the hashtag #ChangeMustCome. I was delighted to see how much they were tuning into this end of the primal emotion dashboard: more pleasurable, more sociable, more creative. Willowy yoga practitioners, burly motorcycle tinkerers, nature guides, young musicians and writers do their thing in Scottish nature.

The neuroscience, in so far as I understand it (and please correct me), says this won’t be enough of an emotional appeal. But if Brexit Britain makes us worried and anxious, it’s much better to frame it as an impediment to this rich society of activities and relationships – what’s stopping us flourishing – as opposed to being rendered as an inferior or odious other or enemy. We are literally not marauding chimps; we should remember that. We can choose.

In a way, #ChangeMustCome does ask our “hearts” to be “brave” – but not too brave, not too captured by fear, anger and panic. Can you endure much more of this? Shouldn’t we do what we know we have to do? Doesn’t this feel like the life you want to lead instead?

The time will come to apply the ranker arts and the robust prebuttals and rebuttals. But we also need an appeal to the OpenHearts – because otherwise, what’s the point of the effort of indy? No matter what false-flag operators in liberal papers say.