MORE stories, less facts. Another week, another poll showing a lead for independence, and with it an exciting summary from Professor John Curtice. “Never,” he says, “have the foundations of public support for the Union looked so weak.” But I’m Scottish, so here comes a note of caution.

Being ahead only means you are better than your opponent, and they could just be consistently awful. One of the toughest things we need to do now is consider, as a movement, what we can do better.

Why? Because we need these polls to move much higher, beyond 60%. Despite Boris Johnson’s astounding level of incompetence, he is not that stupid and is not going to give us a referendum when he knows he will lose. We need 60% and beyond to give our leaders the confidence that enough of Scotland is behind them to move to Plan B and beyond.

This brings us to the theme explored in our June column, focusing on how we might #buildbackbetter our campaign.

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I’ve spent 25 years as an academic or in jobs requiring me to persuade people to do things they (mostly) wanted to do. I have read countless academic articles examining how to influence human behaviour. I’ve done my fair share of research seeking to understand how to persuade consumers.

I have reviewed the work of hundreds of other academics for high-ranked journals. I don’t by any means know everything about this field but I am deeply engaged in it, because I want to know a) how best to persuade people to stop destroying the planet, and b) when asked for advice on how to campaign for independence, the advice given is based on the best available science.

As we consider what we can do better, I’d like to talk about the strong evidence that says statistics and “facts” are not the best form of information to use when we want people to change their mind. Changing minds is hard for many reasons, so let’s make sure we use the type of evidence most likely to be successful. When someone’s mind is made up, it literally means billions of connections holding information in specific structures relating to those beliefs have been created. Changing people’s minds is therefore not just a philosophical process, literal rewiring is needed. Brains have “synaptic plasticity” meaning changes can be made, but that’s hard and when it comes to hard work, our brains would rather avoid that.

Changing our minds also has social costs. How often have you heard a Tory say, as the latest statistics regarding child poverty are debated: “Thank you First Minister, I see your point, this is dreadful and clearly the Union is failing”? Never. Because doing so means losing their position, losing status and losing social contacts.

Another issue with using facts and statistics is that they trigger our least favourite way of thinking. We have two different sets of physiological structures for processing information: System 1 and System 2.

Using System 2, information is processed thoughtfully, analytically and rationally. This is the way we want information about independence to be processed. If people would look at the facts rationally, they would conclude Scotland should become independent.

So, logically, we just need to give them more facts? Well, no, not most of the time. System 2 thinking is also hard, takes lots of energy, often leads to confusion and it is prone to hundreds of biases. So people generally prefer to use System 1 thinking and use it first.

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System 1 checks what is coming in from our sense against recognised patterns and produces emotional responses. Is that noise similar to what we’ve learned is dangerous?

If yes, then the response is fear. It’s quick and is used first because we used to have fractions of a second to decide what information meant or face potentially fatal consequences – is that food or is that a predator? We prefer it because it takes less effort and the outcome often feels good as neurotransmitters such as dopamine are released.

So can I suggest we think about how we can feed System 1 when we seek to build beyond 60%? That’s what the modern persuasion industry prefers to do. It tries to swamp your brains with sensual pictures, movement and alluring sounds. The modern marketing industry mostly stopped using facts to persuade people 20 years ago.

To help people change their minds, we need to provide the information in a form they prefer and can easily understand. Information called “narrative evidence” fits this bill and is the academic title for stories or anecdotes that the listener finds coherent, recognises the context and feels empathy toward the characters and their goals.

STORIES like that are processed via System 1, are easier to comprehend, more engaging and are more persuasive if your goal is to change the way a person intends to act.

What brought me to independence was my grandfather, the dearest soul in my life. He told me once, when walking to get the Sunday papers, that he believed Scotland should govern itself. At that time in my life, I had been accepted into the army and no-one I knew had ever brought independence up before.

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My feelings toward him were partially transferred to that idea, so it brings me pleasure to think about it and it’s an idea that “made sense”. Scotland is a country and countries should govern themselves. That’s one of the pieces of “narrative evidence” I use. What are yours? Where and with whom do they work?

Why are we seeing more people supporting independence? Covid-19 has created a hiatus in the constitutional debate and with it a break from the status conflicts that surround it. But, more so, Nicola Sturgeon’s briefings have become part of thousands of personal stories about reassurance in a worrying time, where Scotland, they feel, has fared better than the UK.

The First Minister is delivering what we should expect from a government: clear briefings on complex situations with advice based on impartial science and delivered with compassion and human decency. It’s not the specific numbers or facts people are responding to, it’s this story from a likeable, credible source that is working. It’s narrative, not facts.

Our last column talked about how it would soon be time to move our conversations about independence outwards again. Voices for Scotland is now restarting its campaign to help build these conversations. Get in touch, we’d love to help you tell your stories to more people and get support to more than 60%.

Iain Black is vice-convener of the Scottish Independence Convention and a Voices for Scotland board member.