IT is rather ironic that the UK Government is employing behavioural science in their new “shock and awe” Brexit preparation campaign.

With polling back in January showing that 74% of adults had so far failed to prepare for Brexit, Johnson’s administration has hired media agency MullenLowe London in a £4.5 million advertising deal to devise a PR strategy that will encourage the public and businesses to be “oven-ready” for the UK’s exit from the EU at the end of this year.

MullenLowe is part of the communications dream team that brought us the kicker slogan “stay home, protect the NHS and save lives” before the less successful “stay alert” message to combat Covid-19. Choosing the phrase “shock and awe”, a technique used on the battlefield to gain rapid dominance over an opponent and paralyse their defence, is indicative of just how high a mountain the UK Government have to climb to convince non-Brexiteer believers that it’s not all going to end in tears for the economy and their livelihoods.

I use the word “irony” because it would seem that this government is happy enough to apply the techniques of behavioural science in order to cajole and manipulate the public into joining in their kamikaze Brexit scheme, while the lack of behavioural scientists advising on a pandemic action plan in Sage, or indeed the dearth of people-centred policy preparation for this inevitable and predicted virus, would suggest that for Johnson and co the economy trumps lives every time.

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In a key passage from the tendering document, this advertising campaign recognises, as the clock ticks down on these final months before Brexit comes into effect, that “now is the time to ensure clarity and certainty ... about what will happen at the end of the year”. It’s a bit late for that! We could have used some “clarity and certainty” back in March when the UK Government prevaricated and played down the dangers of coronavirus, shaking hands and spreading it amongst themselves and leaving it up to the public to decide whether they wanted to attend mass gatherings or drink down their local.

In these early days as this insidious virus crept into our homes and hospitals, we could have done with “misunderstandings [being] ironed out” and “appropriate actions taken” as MullenLowe suggests in order to encourage people to prepare for Brexit. Just imagine how many deaths could have been prevented, how many people could have avoided long-term health problems if the UK Government had got the message right in these early weeks before lockdown and put the safety of the public at the very heart of its response.

It’s also another example of the Tory penchant to out-source responsibility. Just like citizens being told to “stay alert” to catching the virus, the message here is clear: it’s up to you to prepare for the economy to nosedive and possibly destroy your livelihood regardless of whether you voted for Brexit or not, and hell mend you if you don’t. The tender document goes on to highlight government concern on “complacency amongst businesses” and its reluctance to “take action” without certainty. The irony-ometer is now broken. Perhaps if these businesses actually had some concrete plans and government guidance to follow, they would be acting? Just a crazy suggestion to a crazied bunch of zealots at No 10.

The UK Government has washed its hands of any duty of care. This is the recurring theme of the last 10 years of the Tories in power. However, Lady Macbeth’s “out, out damn spot” springs to mind; it might find it harder this time to manipulate a public already reeling from the economic catastrophe of weeks of lockdown. It’s truth people need to hear, not carefully crafted spin.

In what could be interpreted as some kind of poetic justice, you could say that the government has also “out-sourced” themselves, because MullenLowe’s strategy recognises the need to use some nongovernmental means to get their messages across because “people have higher levels of trust in third parties and peers than they do in government”. Imagine paying £4.5m to read that about yourself. What a damning indictment of Johnson, Cummings and their blinkered enablers.

This new campaign is due to kick off in July, so brace yourselves for an initial wave of cunning slogans and pithy messages to encourage the public into recognising that they’d better get their act together PDQ for Brexit. Then come autumn, prepare to be hit by the rapid dominance phase where warnings of the consequences of any lack of action will litter ministerial pronouncements and bus stop adverts. By Christmas we’ll be up to our necks in the hilariously entitled “loss avoidance” phase before the final sun-lit uplands of January as we enter the brave new world of Brexit recession. Expect Union flags galore, panicked stockpiling and anxious allotment activity across the land.

But as far as Scotland and Northern Ireland are concerned, don’t expect any tailored messaging from the UK Government to recognise being wrenched out of the EU against our will and the damage it will entail. We’re the last ones to hear about their plans as we’ve discovered throughout this depressing Brexit process and indeed its catastrophic failures on Covid-19. Scotland is all too aware of the economic hit it’s going to take on Brexit, deal or no deal, and no level of preparation can prevent the inevitable on this.

Now with the double whammy of coronavirus and the GDP in freefall, Scotland is facing eye-watering job losses and businesses going bust. There’s no herd immunity from the economic tsunami heading our way or the possible second wave of the virus come winter. Oh, and what about the little issue of climate change? Wave upon wave upon wave. That’s shock and awe for you. Never mind says Johnson, get yourselves out to the shops and spend some money you don’t have.

Given that these three horses of the apocalypse are galloping all the closer, it would seem that governments should dig deep for some new radical ideas rather than resorting to their business-as-usual tired and over-tested tropes. But even in a parallel universe, it’s hard to imagine a profound and revolutionary action plan emanating from the vortex of disaster capitalism that is No 10.

If Scotland wants to open its mind to a whole different set of priorities that focuses on protecting the public from the ensuing damage rather than throwing us to the wolves, there are alternatives ways of examining our economic, health and environmental concerns which are about as far from the self-interested, rule Britannia exceptionalism of Brexit as possible.

In Scotland, the think-and-do tank, Common Weal, has published a comprehensive model for our nation’s recovery based on Resilience Economics, where the economy is constructed in such a way as to withstand shocks from financial recessions, global pandemics and other crises that we haven’t even dared yet to imagine in our darkest dreams.

It rejects old Keynesian models of subsidies and bailouts and instead looks to create a more secure economy, free from unstable, low-paid employment. Such an economy could unlock the latent domestic potential of, for instance, our renewable industries rather than outsourcing our wealth to foreign companies by selling great swaths of offshore wind farms to businesses abroad. An economy based on self-reliance, equal access and participation and most importantly underpinned by accountable and transparent democratic practises would be transformational for Scotland.

It’s this kind of people-centred and inclusive approach that would make Johnson and Cummings choke on their first Americano of the day. Imagine a world without behavioural science to appropriate for your own narrow means, without manipulative slogans, a reliance on spin and opportunities for a few well-heeled friends to make millions at the expense of the economy. This approach would be just too much shock and awe for this current UK Government to understand. Over to you Holyrood.