Doctor Who fans of a certain vintage have recently been enjoying a newly-restored 1980 story called “Shada”.

Written by Douglas Adams of Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy fame, it was never completed due to industrial action at the BBC. Ingeniously, however, the missing parts have been animated and re-voiced by Tom Baker et al.

The plot is standard sci-fi fare, opening on the “Think Tank” space station where Skagra (the villain) uses a spherical device to drain the minds of his colleagues – the greatest thinkers in the galaxy – part of his dastardly plot to dominate the whole of humanity.

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Adams was, of course, poking fun at a then growing culture of think-tankery in the UK, the recently-elected Margaret Thatcher having derived much of her policy inspiration from the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies.

Most policy institutes tend to have benign intentions, even when hearing from controversial figures like Steve Bannon, who reportedly attended a gathering of the low-key Scotland International think-tank in Gleneagles on Friday night. They want to inform and ultimately influence government policy; otherwise, what’s the point?

London has a lively think-tank scene – Wikipedia lists almost 200 such organisations – while the Edinburgh landscape is more modest. Reform Scotland is perhaps the most prominent example, with around a dozen others enjoying a varying public profile and impact.

There’s a gap, as ever, between Scotland’s conceit of itself as an enlightened ideas-rich environment and the reality. While its think-tank scene might look quite busy, what unites most of them is a relative lack of funding, staff and therefore output. A policy institute is only as good as its last report, and it’s often difficult to identify any solid thread between something produced by a think-tank and Scottish Government policy.

Back in 1999, when the Scottish Parliament was first established, I remember a general expectation that Edinburgh would end up hosting lots more policy-based institutions (along with a more vibrant Fourth Estate, something else that didn’t pan out as intended), alongside PR consultants and lobbyists. This did happen for a while, but just as the new legislature was bedding down the Great Financial Crash came along.

Understandably, corporate support for policy development completely dried up. Within a few years, however, it began to recover, only for the independence referendum to polarise opinion and reduce all policy discussion to being for or against independence. But now the constitutional tide has clearly receded, hopefully there’ll be space for another recovery.

This is where the newly-launched Scottish Policy Foundation (SPF) comes in. “The quality of governance”, declares its website, “is improved by the quality of the debate.” The SPF also makes the point that with “substantial” new powers coming Holyrood’s way as a result of the 2012 and 2016 Scotland Acts – and even more, potentially, as a consequence of Brexit – it’s vital to “strengthen the quality of debate” around the policy choices and priorities needed to “secure a flourishing future for Scotland”.

Its mission statement also touches upon another problem with the Scottish policy environment, a lack of capacity, its policy infrastructure generally lagging behind the often-constant transfer of powers from London to Edinburgh. Civil servants can’t suddenly become experts in policy areas they’ve hitherto never had to contemplate, but at the same time there’s clearly policy expertise out there (for example in academia), it’s just a matter of harnessing it.

This, of course, requires money, which happily is the main purpose of the SPF, which is essentially a grant-making charitable foundation backed up by pledges of “major” investment from private sector donors. And, significantly, constitutional questions won’t be eligible for funds, rather any grants will encourage research into taxation, the economy and education, all areas – remarkably – that have been neglected over the past two decades.

It’s all very heartening, a grown-up analysis accompanied by grown-up proposals in an intellectual environment that’s coasted along on the idea of quick, easy solutions (independence! Brexit!) to complex and long-standing problems (sluggish economic growth, inequality, etc) for far too long. Even more heartening is the SPF’s non-partisan approach, not least because most Scottish think-tanks – ie the Jimmy Reid Foundation or Reform Scotland – are coming from a certain ideological or constitutional positions.

Beginning with a conclusion (independence!) and then working backwards is not conducive to good policy-making, in fact it stymies it. One of the SPF’s new board members, former Scotland Office minister Andrew Dunlop, didn’t mince his words in branding the policy status quo “woefully inadequate”.

Another board member, deputy SNP leader Angus Robertson, took a different tack, praising the “lively political debate ongoing in Scotland”, but also acknowledging much-needed “space for new ideas”. Others involved include former Labour minister Douglas Alexander, long and engaging policy thinker, as well as a respected figure from the world of business, Virgin Money chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia.

Further underpinning this outbreak of common sense, the SPF’s launch was welcomed by the David Hume Institute and IPPR Scotland, both no doubt grateful there’ll be some more dosh swirling around with which to commission high-quality research. I, too, wish the SPF well; it’s brought some good news as another depressing political year draws to a close.

Naturally, the proof will be in the policy pudding. The SPF’s launch is timely given that Scotland is finally having (something approaching) a serious discussion about income tax and the redistribution of wealth, but the question is this: does the Scottish Government (or, for that matter, its opponents) actually care about “radical” policy-making or is it simply on the hunt for another campaigning mantra to get them through the next election?

The Scottish Policy Foundation says it believes that “generating broader and deeper debate” will result in better policy outcomes. We shall see, we shall see.