IN democracies, we should all have the right to know during a political discussion who people stand for and represent.

Most times, it’s pretty clear when it is a political representative or an activist with a track record, elected politicians are there because our electors and parties approved us to be there (and can get rid of us at the next election) but I’m concerned we’re seeing too many “pundits” and “commentators” being given too much airtime and think it high time we shed some light on who they are and who they’re actually representing.

I had the pleasure of appearing on Question Time last week in Liverpool for what was an interesting discussion.

The show gets a lot of flack sometimes but the idea of how it works is empowering for democrats. You have political representatives (and others) facing questions from members of the public across a broad range of topical areas.

And unlike in the House of Commons chamber, you can actually hear others without having to filter out Tory braying and hoohah-ing. I’ll also go on the record here to defend Question Time – they are criticised from all sides and I think are doing a decent job of having panels that are interesting, usually with one or two agents provocateurs to shake things up and that’s no bad thing.

The programme is designed to be adversarial, we’re encouraged to chip in on each other and to challenge the propositions being put forward by the other panelists. As our great Scots philosopher David Hume said: “The truth emerges from an honest disagreement amongst friends.”

Those who watched the show will know what was discussed. Yet as the solitary Nat on the panel (and it is a UK-wide show so that is not from their perspective unbalanced) the only other left-wing voice was the Labour MP Lucy Powell. I’m a big boy, I can deal with that but the clip that seemed to do the Twitter rounds though was the moment when I called into question the transparency of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the “think-tank” which one of the panellists works for.

Readers can easily find the clip itself which prompted quite a discussion but it raises a broader point.

I believe I was right to point out that the IEA does not disclose its funding and is considered amongst the least transparent think-tanks in the UK. The IEA representative just so happened to be there on the night but it could just as easily been someone from the Adam Smith Institute or the Taxpayers’ Alliance which similarly refuse to declare all their funders.

Now they have a right to do so, and indeed they are entitled to put people up for media bids and push their agenda. But they should be introduced with a health warning so that the viewers or listeners can calibrate their views accordingly.

Why does this matter? Because often these so-called “think-tanks” are presented as impartial experts without any conflicts of interest when they are in fact lobbyists pushing an agenda.

People and politicians all have agendas and interests and it’s only right that the audience, most of whom do not have the time nor willpower to trawl through Companies House or legal documents, should know who is presenting in front of them. This isn’t the first time this has happened nor is it a new problem.

As this paper reported barely two years ago, Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer wrote to the BBC asking why it had breached its own editorial guidelines by allowing the IEA to discuss Minimum Unit Pricing of alcohol in Scotland without having first disclosed that it had received funding from the alcohol industry.

Over the past decade, the Adam Smith Institute has had articles and papers published dismissing the threat of climate change and the effectiveness of policies such as a carbon tax (despite plenty of academic evidence to the contrary).

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported in 2018 how the Taxpayers Alliance, which claims to “speak up for British taxpayers”, had received at least £223,300 from US-based donors in the preceding five years (This included $100,000 originating from a billionaire-founded religious trust incorporated in the Bahamas).

Don’t get me wrong, as much as I might disagree with these types of organisations, each person has the right believe what they want and organise how they please. People have the right to express their opinions and produce papers to argue their points and policies they want to see implemented. At the same time the public are entitled to know who is funding these organisations and whether there is a potential conflict of interest.

Equally, an organisation such as the BBC has a duty of care to ensure members of the public are informed with verifiable facts.

Where I’m explicitly not criticising Question Time in this article, I assuredly am criticising the BBC over its coverage of Brexit because it was woeful. Brexit came about in large part because a significant portion of the media presented Brexit arguments as equally valid when they were not. No one would have given the brexiteers credence if their claims hadn’t become normalised through countless interviews and media appearances.

This issue becomes ever sharper as we gear up for our own referendum on independence. We in the Yes movement will present the facts and ideas as we see them and the Unionist camp will also do so.

In an ideal world, we will be able to discuss and debate amicably and let the facts speak for themselves. The BBC, for all its faults, has a duty to present the facts impartially – a continual failure to disclose who are the shadowy figures behind some institutions and organisations does a democratic disservice.

The public arena in which ideas and politicians compete is a brutal one. Yet as we debate and discuss how to resolve the problems facing our society it is ever more crucial that the electorate can sort fact from fiction, truth from lies.

It is high time that reputable media organisations stop giving platforms to phoney actors. Otherwise, democracy is heading towards a very dark place indeed.