I would’ve liked to have been a wee fly on the wall when Alex Neil defended Scottish Government anti-poverty policies in front of the Church of Scotland’s Commission on the Purposes of Economic Activity this week.

I would’ve been intrigued to watch as the Cabinet Minister for Capital Investment put forward policies like the home building programme as evidence of job creation and poverty reduction. Firstly, because The Scotsman can’t seem to decide whether the commissioners found Neil’s responses “disappointing” or “impressive” (anyone who can untangle this journalistic model of clarity get back to me in the comments).

But my curiosity is mainly piqued because there’s scant opportunity at present within Holyrood to see the Scottish Government really defend their policies against a well-thought, robust critique.

Scottish Labour is still revolving around the broken tactic of opposition for opposition’s sake, and it is neither robust nor well thought-out.  A brief scan through the last week’s press releases from Holyrood’s official opposition indicates that the SNP are responsible for just about every economic ill north of the border.

Assuming The Scotsman’s report on the Minister’s talks with the Church of Scotland Commission isn’t entirely garbled, Neil’s claim that Scotland doesn’t have enough powers to tackle poverty and unemployment does seem to stand up, ironically since nothing seems to be standing up against the Tories’ bulldozing of any of the fragile edifices of social justice this country previously had.

The Church of Scotland’s Commission on Economics is one of many endeavors by civic Scotland aiming to understand the root causes of poverty in Scotland and to propose workable, effective solutions. Led by Professor Charles Munn OBE, the Commission will report in February 2012 on fundamental ethical questions underlying economic activity, on which the Kirk can influence change.

The two-year Poverty Truth Commission reported in April 2011, with an impressive legacy for implementation, even when considering just the Scottish Government: persuading civil servants to now engage with and involve those with direct experience of poverty in policy development; to work together with kinship carers to address the needs of children.

Quoted in the report, Jim Wallace, the former Deputy First Minister, said: “Through the Commission I have become convinced that we are more likely to identify solutions to some deep-seated problems if politicians and officials involve those who experience the reality of poverty in their daily lives. That is the challenge to policy makers and those who deliver public services at every level of government.”

I don’t think the challenge of tackling the abhorrent scale of poverty in Scotland is misunderstood or underestimated by the Scottish Government. I don’t think Neil runs to the adage of ‘more powers’ for the hell of it – I think they’re needed, and I think Scotland’s poverty proves why. But I think even without a debate on what powers and when, it’s obvious the Coalition Government in Westminster and their spending plans – a “reckless gamble on people’s lives” – severely restrict what Scotland can do to alleviate the suffering of too many people in our country.

I am glad Scottish Government, and Ministers like Neil, have to discuss and defend policies in front of movements by Scottish civic society. Whether it’s the Kirk’s Economics Commission, the Poverty Truth Commission or the Scottish TUC’s Better Way campaign, the need for people to reveal the pain of the recession and demand change is crucial. It’s also heartening in Scotland that we have an established church firmly on the side of the 99%, unlike elsewhere.

Every government needs to be held to account, because it is in the dialectic of proposing and defending policy that better decisions are made. Civic Scotland does this extremely well, and Scottish Government should, and mostly does, listen.

But if the only source of this critique is civic Scotland, it indicates it’s time Scotland’s political opposition realign themselves. You can’t claim to be a movement for social justice but keep resorting to student union-esque baiting by press release of bad news for the SNP. After all, the rest of Scotland is getting involved to find ways to work with, thoughtfully debate with, and constructively disagree with the Scottish Government and its work to tackle the causes of poverty. Why not those elected to hold them to account?