Whether this situation is due to the think tanks being based in London or a lack of engagement by the devolved parliaments is open for debate. Regardless, the outcome is a health system in Scotland that is less understood and less held to account than it is in England and a similar situation exists in relation to analysis of the education systems, and beyond, across the UK.

There is greater think tank-related capacity concerned with economic and fiscal matters in Scotland, where the Fraser of Allander Institute, the Scottish Fiscal Commission and analysis by David Phillips at the Institute of Fiscal Studies can be called upon. Not comprehensive but a big improvement on what was in place even a decade ago. Unfortunately, such analysis and advice are still largely ignored, as politicians remain mostly unengaged on the subject.

Why does any of this matter? The role of such bodies is crucial to a working democracy in two ways. First, such bodies hold governments to account by analysing the outcomes of their policies. This information can be used by the public, the media, politicians, parliamentary committees and pressure groups to assess whether a change in direction is needed, especially when compared with outcomes in other parts of the UK.

Second, they provide political parties with new ideas. Political parties of any persuasion are usually beholden to think tanks – who can act as halfway houses between academic research and the world of politics – to provide them with new ideas and fill in their manifestos. Without such engagement, the quality of policymaking can easily slide from ‘evidence based’ to ‘prejudice based’. This point was well illustrated in the past by Scottish political parties’ obsession with reducing class sizes – now thankfully less prevalent – which was never the key to improving school performance.

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