THERE’S been a lot of debate around Steven Gerrard’s appointment as Rangers manager. What bugs people seems to be this: ok, he’s done it as a player, but being a manager is a very different challenge – where’s the evidence he’s up to it?

With understandably less fanfare I recently took up the post of director at Reform Scotland, a think tank. I’ve been asking myself the same question posed by critics of the Gerrard decision. I’ve spent 20 years as a journalist, most of that time writing about politicians and policy, and I’ve even won the odd award for my efforts (a Champions League medal eludes me, so far). But running a think tank, while in the same biosphere, is a very different challenge – where’s the evidence I’m up to it?

Well, perhaps for me and Stevie the answer is the same: as yet, there is none. Our past careers might be useful preparation, but they offer no guarantee of success. And running a think tank is, I confess, a daunting task (I’ll leave it to you to say whether managing Rangers is the greater or lesser challenge). It’s one thing to stand on the sideline throwing stones, another to come up with effective solutions; one thing to shake your head at the weaknesses and failures in our public realm, another to attempt to fix them.

But then that’s rather the point. As Teddy Roosevelt famously put it: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… who errs, comes short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms; who spends himself in a worthy cause.

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That’s a bit highfalutin, so let me phrase it differently. I’d like to make a difference, and to do so in an area where Scotland is arguably underpowered. Our think tank scene is far from moribund, but it lacks the vibrancy a nation with such combative politics and its own powerful parliament deserves. As my erstwhile colleague David Torrance once put it on these pages, “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.”

This is not the case at Westminster, where there is a wide range of think tanks that are well-funded and well-staffed and that keep up a noisy background hum of activity. Ideas flow, politicians and policymakers and academics and businesses enthusiastically engage, and those ideas can become law. That’s making a difference, right? In a way, it will be a sign that Scottish politics has grown up when we can say the same about our own scene. Ultimately, we stand or fall on the quality of our ideas.

And it’s not as if there isn’t plenty to do. We have a rare three-year period without major elections or referendums to distract us (for all the shouting by the independence referendum campaigners, I think it’s likely to stay that way). Until the next devolved election in 2021 most of us can, and hopefully will, devote our minds to the quotidian task of what can be achieved with the powers we have.

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The constitutional debate has been so all-encompassing over the past decade or so that it has led to two unfortunate outcomes: a lack of focus on public policy other than how it relates to Yes/No; and a tribal refusal to consider interesting ideas unless they come from your own side. We have to get past this.

Here, I’d like to praise Nicola Sturgeon. Unionists rarely give the First Minister the benefit of the doubt, but I often think she deserves a better press. No one would deny that securing independence is her first priority, but as time has worn on Ms Sturgeon has shown a pleasing interest in exploring innovative ways to improve our lot.

We could mention the Baby Box, which has its critics but which nevertheless is appreciated by many new parents and serves as a statement of society’s support at a trying time, and of welcome to the newborn. We could talk about the Scottish Investment Bank, which will help fund the transition to a hi-tech, low-carbon economy, offering businesses the kind of patient finance they often struggle to access in the open market. It might work, it might not, but it’s worth a go, right? Same with the basic-income pilot schemes and the ambitious carbon-reduction targets. Scotland is the perfect size to try things out, to be a bit quirky and adventurous. At the sub-national level we have a fascinating blend of city, urban, suburban and rural communities that are crying out for radical, made-to-measure policies.

Then there’s the B-word. We’ve spent the past two years demanding the Government at Westminster avoid a hard Brexit, or hold a second referendum, or announce that the whole thing was a stupid idea in the first place. But Britain is about to leave the EU, there’s little we can do to stop it, and Scotland will have to bring its A-game if it is to tackle both the challenges ahead.

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So what is our agenda for Brexit? Which areas of our economy are likely to most benefit? How will we patch the weaknesses? When Estonia emerged from the Soviet Union it decided to stand out by focusing on digital government, an area in which it is now the world leader and a successful exporter – what’s our post-Brexit specialism? Can we do more to spin out the research being done in our universities? What’s our immigration strategy?

Less tribalism, more thought. Less timidity, more ambition. If you want a better Scotland, get in touch. Now’s the time to stand up and be counted. Or, as Stevie Gerrard put it, let’s go.