Stronger Parliament needs stronger think tank sector for Covid recovery, says IPPR Scotland

Stronger Parliament needs stronger think tank sector for Covid recovery, says IPPR Scotland

With the significant powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament in recent years and the prospect of huge decisions following COVID-19, Scotland needs a strengthened ‘policy ecosystem’ to ensure its decisions are based on the best evidence and ideas, according to research published today by IPPR Scotland.

The new report from Scotland’s progressive think tank draws on interviews with key funders and opinion formers in Scotland and across the UK, to understand their view of policy making in Scotland.

It shows that there is significant potential to make good policy, which improves peoples’ lives, with the powers devolved to the Scottish parliament in recent years. However, there are still too few think tanks in Scotland, and too little funding for policy research focussed on the parliament’s powers.

The research looks internationally and finds that think tanks, when they work well, have a crucial role in developing new ideas and communicating them to both the general public and decision-makers. Across the world, and in Scotland, there are a large range of types of think tanks which, at their best, share the aim of conducting independent policy research to improve decision making.

A strong and transparent think tank sector can therefore help to strengthen democracy. However, potential funders do not always have confidence that policy work in Scotland can successfully navigate constitutional and party-political divides.

The report concludes that, as we aim to rebuild following Covid-19 and get the crucial decisions Scotland faces over the coming months and years right, the Scottish parliament will need to ensure its decisions are based on the best ideas and best evidence. Strengthening the think tank sector in Scotland and improving its policy infrastructure could be vital to ensure that this happens.

To achieve this, the report makes several recommendations, including:

  • A new arms-length ‘seed fund’ delivered through an independent charitable funder to strengthen the depth and breadth of think tanks in Scotland.
  • A review of how the founding principles of the Scottish Parliament of openness, engagement and accountability are operating across policymaking in Scotland.
  • A voluntary ‘transparency and trust pledge’ for think tanks in Scotland, prioritising the principles of independence, transparency and trust in their funding, governance and research.
  • A ‘thought leadership’ kitemark to encourage private individuals and organisations in Scotland to donate to support independent policy research in Scotland.
  • Closer working between UK-wide funders based outside of Scotland, and think tanks in Scotland to increase charitable spending on policy research focussed on Holyrood.

Russell Gunson, director of IPPR Scotland, said: ”As Scotland’s powers have grown since devolution, so too has our policy ambition. But we must do more to ensure that as a country we have the policy capacity and think tank sector we need to match our new responsibilities and help us to get the big decisions we face right.

“This report shows that Scotland is seen as a place where innovative policy approaches are taken, and where the potential for improving peoples’ lives is huge. But it also shows some of the barriers seen by people to providing the evidence and ideas that could help us meet that potential. By encouraging greater levels and variety of funding for policy research in Scotland, and by promoting new ways of working among policy organisations in Scotland, we can begin to see Scotland’s capacity catch up with its powers and potential.

“With May’s elections less than three months away, how we rebuild Scotland to be better than before, built on the foundations of social, economic and climate justice will be the most important question facing the next Scottish parliament. A stronger think tank sector, as part of Scotland’s wider policy community, could have a crucial role to play to making sure we get the momentous decisions we face right”.

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