WHEN was the last time you agreed with a policy advocated by a party you openly disagreed with? I bet that it’s been a while. And to an extent, it’s necessary for political parties to accentuate their differences so that they stand out to voters.

Yet democracy by definition means rule by the people – and the population of Scotland have a wide range of views about which policies are good, which are bad, and those that are frankly a bit meh.

Our Scottish Parliament is meant to represent this diversity – and compared to Westminster it certainly does. The SNP and Scottish Greens might be the current parties in government, but the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour parties also have a significant amount of representation in their own right. In the past, parties such as the Scottish Socialist Party had elected MSPs.

Yet there is a problem when it comes to making “good” policy (however we define good). Outside of our universities and a few isolated examples such as the Scottish Council on Global Affairs, Scottish public policy forums are a barren desert of ideas.

Too often the policy agenda is shaped by lobbyists with their own interests or by individuals utilising their wealth to skew political discourse in their favour. In a democracy these groups are entitled to advocate for their interests – equally, the public is entitled to know of ideas which are in their interest, and not in the narrow interest of the few.

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Scottish public policy needs independent think tanks, not pseudo-academics or shadow individuals bankrolling their agenda. Europe, as is often the case, shows the way to address this.

In Germany, all political parties that are represented in the German Bundestag have a political foundation associated with them known as a stiftung. These political foundations are essentially state-sponsored think tanks which encompass the entirety of the political spectrum.

There are seven in total, with the oldest being the Social Democratic Party’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation (established in 1925, banned under the Nazis, and then re-established in 1947) and the most recent, the Desiderius Erasmus Foundation, established in 2017 by the Alternative for Germany. Some are truly global institutions, with the Christian Democratic Union’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation home to 111 offices worldwide.

As stated by the Hanns Seidel Foundation (associated with the Christian Social Union in Bavaria) after the Second World War, political foundations were viewed as necessary in Germany to help establish anchors of democratic political culture and awareness in Germany and avoid a future democratic breakdown.

They have the broad goal of transmitting their associated political parties’ values to society and promoting democracy, with activities focused on political education and research. Many provide scholarships and fellowships to students and organisations as well as hosting conferences or speaking events.

Almost all of their funding comes from the state and, whilst they are associated with a particular political party, they are independent of them, and as such they do not engage in election campaigns for their associated party, even if inevitably there is an overlap of party and foundation membership.

Given Germany’s post-war development, it is difficult to argue that the existence of such foundations have been anything other than a benefit, both for the parties associated with them and the wider public.

In contrast, recent policy failures of both the left and the right across these isles show there is a desperate need for independent think tanks to inform public policy.

Conservative austerity has bankrupted the UK’s public services. Truss’ mini-budget took inspiration from right-wing bodies with dubious links. Labour has the Fabian Society yet the party offers no ideas beyond Starmer’s Neo-Cameronism.

The Liberals have arguably had no concrete ideology since before the First World War. More recently in Scotland, mistakes have arguably been made in implementing ideas with good intent from the SNP and the Scottish Greens, such as the HPMAs or the DRS.

When politicians fail, political space is opened for ideologues and extremists. Equally, there is a wider need for political education in Scottish society. Despite having a Scottish Parliament for nearly 25 years, a significant amount of the electorate aren’t aware of the differences between what is reserved, devolved or a council matter.

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Political education is not a requirement in our education system even though hostile actors continually attempt to undermine it with deliberate disinformation and other nefarious methods.

Scottish political foundations would not only help parties define, develop and refine their own ideology – they would also equip our citizens with the knowledge to recognise what is true and what is false, what is genuine and what has been spawned by agents of hostile states.

There is of course a natural self-interest to this idea of a Scottish political foundation. The world has moved on from 2014. We’ve had Brexit, Trump, a global pandemic, and a brutal war of aggression against Ukraine by Putin’s Russia.

There were things we got right and things we got wrong in the original independence campaign. Nearly 10 years on, there is a need to update the argument for independence to reflect this new reality.

Equally, should any of the Unionist parties wish to advocate for their perspective they are entitled to do so – that’s democracy. Either way, a political foundation cuts through the wall of misinformation that exists and helps ensure that our democratic population is accurately informed on the issues of the day, the past and the future.

It was for these reasons I also supported the London branch’s resolution on creating Scottish political foundations for this year’s SNP Annual Conference, which unfortunately did not quite make the final agenda. However, I am optimistic that this idea is worth developing further. Independence is about building a new type of Scotland, a new type of politics.

The creation of Scottish political foundations can only help enhance our political society and help turn Scotland’s public policy forum from a barren desert into a flourishing oasis of ideas.