GOVERNMENTS, companies and organisations can spend hundreds of thousands of pounds, hours of focus groups and endless 'thought showers' perfecting their messages to an unsuspecting public to make us behave, vote or act in a certain way. A whole industry exists to capture the zeitgeist and encapsulate that slogan in a few choice words that will resonate powerfully and irresistibly with us. “Take Back Control”, “Better Together” and “Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives” are a few that come to mind. This week we’ve been treated to a new campaign and slogan: The Scottish Government’s “Keep The Heid” campaign, unleashed on us on the eve of pubs and restaurants in Scotland fully re-opening after almost 4 months must surely be up there with some of the biggies.

In what will be sad news for PR companies across the country the First Minister recounts that she found herself saying the phrase in the middle of one of the press conferences, immediately thought, ‘what am I saying?’ and then realised it fitted perfectly with what she hoped Scots would do as the most significant easing of lockdown took place. A public health campaign was thus born, and the first of many I think, in the Scots language.

Whilst I’m not sure how far to the front of some people’s heids government campaigns are after a few pints, most people seem to have quite enjoyed this foray into Scots. A cursory look on Twitter at the “keep the heid” hashtag confirms that, with someone from East Anglia saying it was the perfect phrase for these times, and another north of the border proclaiming that he’d never felt so patriotic.

The use of Scots somehow brings momentary respite to what has been a heavy, bruising time, it lightens our moods, makes us smile, whilst at the same time carrying an important message to behave ourselves. There’s something about “keep the heid” that feels inclusive, and is perhaps not quite as paternalistic as the UK government’s “Stay Alert” slogan, although arguably they mean almost the same thing. Whatever the reasoning behind it, Sturgeon seems to have got it right with both choice of language and messaging. Without the use of a big PR machine she has taken the pulse of the nation. “Keep the heid” feels accessible, universal and comforting, and it also won’t have escaped Sturgeon's notice that, even more popular than her briefings have been comedian Janey Godley’s voiceovers of the briefings – in a hybrid of Scots and Glaswegian patter. These have been incredibly popular, clocking up hundreds of thousands of internet views and piles of associated merchandise for the comedian at a time when people were searching for some momentary light relief.

For some, though, there has been a sniffiness about the First Minister’s choice of language. It’s not the language of leadership, it’s cringey or it isn’t immediately clear what it means, and indeed a quick survey amongst pals illustrates that whilst the exact meaning could be debated – “keep calm and carry on”, “don’t go daft”, “be sensible”, the general understanding is fairly uniform. As to whether it’s cringey, having gone to school (and a private school at that) at a time when Scots was uniformly referred to as slang and therefore mightily frowned upon, I understand the cringe factor. Many of us are still stuck in the mindset, that it’s old fashioned, twee or just a bit "rough", not realising that Scots is 900 years old and not just a lazy way of speaking English. As a second generation Asian, rolling words like "glaikit ", "dreich" and "scunnered" around my tongue gives me the same joy as speaking Punjabi instead of the more formal Urdu of my parents. For me, the Scots language brings me closer to those who may perceive me as different. It unifies and ameliorates, strengthens and deepens those human bonds.

But slogans in whatever language won't be enough to see us through the trials ahead. The jobless figures that increase with every passing day, the questions that need to be asked about the move from hospitals to care homes of many of our elderly in the early stages of the pandemic, the initial confusion around school re-attendance for our kids, the mammoth length of NHS waiting lists for non-Covid related issues and fear of a second spike will test the government for years to come.

The messages need to serve to unify, heal and remind us of our humanity and shared responsibility to make things better as we move ahead to our new ‘normal’. To achieve this our leaders will need more than slogans and watchwords but will need to take their own "keep the heid advice". Now more than ever, they’ll need to act out their own slogans in whatever language.

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