A major non-party bid has been launched to improve the quality of public debate on tax, the economy and education.

As Holyrood takes on ever more powers, serious private sector donors have pledged “major” investments in to Scotland’s underfunded public policy research sector.

They have set up a charity, the Scottish Policy Foundation, with an initial six-figure budget to finance fresh, non-partisan thinking on devolved powers.

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Formally announced on St Andrew’s Day, the Foundation’s establishment comes after years of grumbling over the quality and quantity of robust independent policy research north of the border.

READ MORE: Are Scotland’s leaders smart enough to put policy back in to politics?

Crucially, its funders, major private sector figures, have ruled out paying for research on constitutional questions, focusing on bread-and-butter issues run from Holyrood.

And to ensure political impartiality, they have set up an advisory board on grants which crosses political and business fault lines.

Members include SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson, former Labour cabinet minister Douglas Alexander; retired diplomat Lord John Kerr, Conservative peer Lord Dunlop and former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini.

Andrew Dunlop, a former Downing Street advisor and Scotland Office minister said: “For some time now it has been clear that the funding available for policy research and analysis north of the border is woefully inadequate.

READ MORE: Are Scotland’s leaders smart enough to put policy back in to politics?

“The creation of a funding body which aims to rectify this situation is extremely timely.”

Mr Robertson said: “People of all parties recognise that, while there is a lively political debate ongoing in Scotland, there is still space for new ideas.

“I am delighted to be part of an organisation that will be able to help generate the new thinking that is required for a successful Scotland.”

Mr Alexander added: “The Scottish Parliament has gained significant new powers over recent years, and to make the most of these powers demands the development of new policy ideas through rigorous research.”

READ MORE: Are Scotland’s leaders smart enough to put policy back in to politics?

The new body will make grants to think tanks and research institutes with an initial focus on tax - as the SNP minority administration edges away from UK-wide positions - as well as education and the wider economy.

The foundation will not take positions itself or get involved in constitutional issues. It said it would consider other topics for funding in the future but only on areas within the remit of Holyrood.

The new board, which also includes Virgin Money Chief Executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia, announced its first project on Thursday.

It will help the respected Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde share its macroeconomic mod of the Scottish economy to think tanks and other research organisations

READ MORE: Are Scotland’s leaders smart enough to put policy back in to politics?

Professor Graeme Roy, the institute’s director and former advisor to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, said: “This partnership will also enable us to develop and extend our modelling capacity which will bring new insights into the key opportunities and challenges facing the Scottish economy in the years ahead.”

The Foundation will fund up to half of any research project with grants of between £10,000 and £30,000.

Sir John Elvidge, the former permanent secretary of the Scottish Government who now chairs the David Hume Institute, said: “We welcomes a new funding body in Scotland to extend the breadth and scope of the independent policy research that is vital to a flourishing democracy.

Russell Gunson, Director of IPPR Scotland, said: “Scotland is facing huge opportunities and challenges whether on the economy, tax and benefits, public services, Brexit or our ageing population.

READ MORE: Are Scotland’s leaders smart enough to put policy back in to politics?

“We need independent research to deliver the thinking and new ideas to help us plot a successful path through them. As a charity, IPPR Scotland’s crucial work would not be possible without external funding.”

The Foundation said it was looking for both new donors and new bids for funding as it aims to build up its own capacity and that of the Scottish policy research sector.