OPPOSITION MSPs are plotting to force SNP ministers to clarify their position on fracking, after the Government was accused of fobbing off the public by repeatedly dodging questions over its moratorium.

It is understood that Labour are planning to bring the issue to the floor of the Scottish Parliament and demand Nicola Sturgeon or her energy minister Fergus Ewing come clean over what is covered by the temporary ban, with the Government once again refusing to answer basic questions over its policy this week.

Despite a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas developments being announced in January, it is still unclear whether test drilling for shale is covered and the Government refuses to say when a public consultation will be carried out.

A Government spokesman told The Herald the consultation would "follow a period of evidence-gathering" but then refused to confirm whether the evidence gathering is underway or expand on what form it would take.

SNP ministers have ignored calls from their own backbenches to offer clarity, with nationalist Angus MacDonald, who has called on Mr Ewing to make a statement to parliament, among several MSPs who have seen queries go unanswered.

The reluctance to answer questions has raised suspicion that the SNP leadership is determined to dodge the controversial issue until after May's Holyrood election, and will then give fracking the green light.

Sarah Boyack, Labour's environmental justice spokesperson said that after almost nine months, it was time for straight answers.

She added: "My MSP colleagues have had question after question knocked back while Fergus Ewing hides behind ‘evidence gathering’ to stall any public consultation from getting started.

"We don’t have the timetable for the conclusion of the evidence gathering process, never mind the public consultation which is meant to follow it. Nicola Sturgeon said she and her ministers intend to be an open and accessible government and it’s about time she started to deliver on that promise."

Green MSP Alison Johnstone also issued a fresh call for clarity. She said: "Ministers have had plenty of opportunity to explain why their consultation hasn’t begun, eight months after it was promised. They claim to be gathering evidence – if so, what kind of evidence, from whom and what weight will any consultation have when ministers decide whether to lift the moratorium or turn it into a permanent ban?"

Meanwhile, the pro-shale gas lobby was handed a boost when Robin Harper, the ex-Green MSP who became the first ever member of his party elected to Holyrood, said that he would offer "cautious backing" to fracking if it could be shown to be an improvement on burning coal or oil.