It's always gratifying when two worlds collide.

Last week the Scottish Tory leader shamelessly cashed in on Doctor Who's impending 50th anniversary by warning, as the National Collective website put it, "vote no or the Time Lord gets it". This bit of referendum nonsense was cheerfully echoed by the Scottish Secretary, and then disappeared without trace.

It was a collision because the good Doctor's adventures were my first passion before politics took over a decade-and-a-half later. In retrospect, however, the series was packed with political subtext, from the environmentalism of the Pertwee era to the subtle anti-Thatcherism of McCoy's tenure. Naturally my 10-year-old self was experiencing the show on a less intellectual level.

Such passions take time to leave the system, so last weekend myself and several thousand other Whovians filled London Excel for a three-day celebration of the series' anniversary. We were reminded the Doctor studied medicine at Glasgow University (graduating in 1888) while Sylvester McCoy told a baffled (a main and southern) crowd about the police box on Buchanan Street.

It was harmless fun, escapist fantasy and, at least for me, a nostalgia trip. Thus it was quite revealing that the same assessment could have been applied to the second Radical Independence Conference, which I attended the following day in Glasgow. By any measurement the scale was impressive, with 1000 delegates packed into the Marriott on Argyle Street (though still a fraction of the 70,000 expected at the Excel).

The enthusiasm at both events was infectious. Whovians tend to have a natural camaraderie, as do those on the Scottish left. Proceedings in Glasgow were fun and eclectic, while the organisers' and delegates' sincerity couldn't be questioned. Most discussion, meanwhile, was framed in engagingly black-and-white terms: neoliberalism bad, socialism good.

But this only takes one so far. I attended proceedings with a reasonably open mind, after all the centre or centre-right does not have a monopoly of good ideas, and many shibboleths of public policy - universal healthcare, a minimum wage, etc - all emerged from the left. But alas, for all the RIC's passion and commitment, it was generally a policy-free zone.

The plenaries were a case in point. One called 'Hope' got bogged down with platitudinous speeches. Patrick Harvie (another Whovian), regarded as a dangerous revolutionary by some on the right, said the gathering was "packed full of creative ideas that Scotland needs at the moment", except it wasn't. Neoliberalism was roundly and passionately denounced, but no one even came close to spelling out an alternative. Had Mrs Thatcher been present (in spirit), she could have departed content that her old adage - TINA - still held.

So the resulting vacuum was filled with clichés and sloppy thinking. Raphie De Santos, whom the RIC described as an "analyst in the Scottish financial sector", started sensibly by acknowledging that the key question facing the Yes campaign was 'can we afford it?', but then treated a capacity audience to some astonishingly broad-brush statements. "We would have to go for full nationalisation of the oil industry," he proclaimed, but there followed no analysis of how and, crucially, how much it would cost.

But at least he was honest. "The IFS was right about one thing," he also remarked. "We are going to raise taxes, we're going to raise taxes on the rich and the wealthy…we are going to cut Trident." And just in case a few delegates were taking him seriously, De Santos proposed linking up with 'radical movements' in South America and forging a 'progressive trade alliance'. The applause at that point was distinctly lukewarm.

Like the Doctor Who gathering in London, the RIC event too often resembled a nostalgia trip, with delegates transporting themselves back to the sepia-toned 1960s when politics was simpler and the Soviet Union made alternative political systems credible if not desirable. Reality was rarely directly addressed, for it's easier to speak the language of radicalism than actually deliver it, as Salmond et al know only too well.

A throwback, but a good one, was Bernadette McAliskey, famous for slapping the Tory Home Secretary Reginald Maudling (as Bernadette Devlin) in the early 1970s. She spoke eloquently of her national identity having 'nothing to do' with nationalism, and warning delegates not to regard their radicalism as somehow 'distinctively' Scottish. This, one sensed, was not something many of them wanted to hear, but such was the force of McAliskey's speech - 'vote yes for the rest of us,' she concluded - it earned a standing ovation.

As a veteran Irish politician, of course, McAliskey understood the difficulties facing any radical left platform, namely internal divisions and hostile public opinion. The RIC clearly contains many disparate groups (the Republic Communist Network was present with a rather sparse stall) and thus finds it almost impossible to agree an agenda, thus it sticks to vague generalities that dilutes its impact.

When Mary McGregor (a former Labour councillor in Dundee) lambasted the SNP and Yes Scotland for being wedded to the Bank of England, monarchy and big business (all undeniably true), she was heckled and one lady even staged a walkout. Given that RIC sees itself as a critical friend of the official Yes campaign, and McGregor clearly isn't alone in her views, there's obvious scope for tension. Yet the SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, who basically told delegates what they wanted to hear, was warmly received.

Political reality occasionally intruded. Patrick Harvie said he suspected the delegates present were "not typical of most Scots", an understatement to say the least, yet as the 2003 Holyrood election illustrated, a potential left vote clearly exists in Scotland: most Scots, like most Brits, are both left and right, increasingly left-wing on economics and energy, but generally right-wing on welfare and immigration.

The RIC firmly believes that socialism, or at least left-leaning policies, are more likely to be delivered in an independent Scotland (a modest claim), although the obvious counter is that Ed Miliband's Labour party is clearly moving to the left, certainly more so than the SNP in economic terms. But this faith in independence to deliver is but the latest manifestation of the left's constant hunt for a Doctor Who-like saviour. Initially it was Blair, and when he disappointed the hope transferred to Brown; now it's the (ironically) Blairite Mr Salmond.

The RIC's core (but rather vague) aims will also be completely undermined by tomorrow's white paper, rooted as it will be in neoliberal orthodoxy, an inconvenient truth largely ignored at Saturday's gathering. Could RIC mobilise left votes next September? Perhaps, but at the moment there's just lots of noise, often engaging and refreshing noise, but noise nevertheless.

I couldn't help concluding that the RIC was to Yes Scotland what the 79 Group was to the SNP in the early 1980s, and indeed the Scottish Government has generally kept its distance. To take one of RIC's slogans, 'Another Scotland' is certainly possible, just not very likely. Doctor Who has been exploring alternative realities for half a century, the SNP for nearly 80 years and the left for even longer - dare I suggest that all three rely too much on fantasy?