SNP ministers spent £175,000 in a legal battle about the existence of their ‘fracking ban’ it has emerged.

In response to a freedom of information request, the Scottish Government revealed it spent £173,928 on external legal advice and £1200 on court fees for a judicial review.

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The Scottish Tories, who uncovered the figure, said it showed the SNP was “unfit for office”.

In October 2017, the SNP government told the Scottish Parliament that it had effectively banned the unconventional gas extraction technique.

Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse told MSPs: “There is, in effect, a ban on unconventional oil and gas activities in Scotland.”

A week later, a series of ministers also told the SNP conference there was a ban.

Nicola Sturgeon told delegates “Fracking is now banned in Scotland” and Deputy First Minister John Swinney said there was “a ban on fracking here in Scotland”.

However in May 2018, after Grangemouth refinery operators Ineos challenged the ban, the government’s lawyer admitted in court that it didn’t exist, and was only ever a “PR gloss”.

Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett said: “The SNP deliberately misled the people of Scotland by saying there was a fracking ban – something even its own lawyers admitted was a nonsense.

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“Now we learn this deceit cost the taxpayer more than £175,000.

“It’s not the first time the SNP has blown public money on an entirely avoidable court case.

“It’s yet another example of SNP incompetence at government level, and proof that the nationalists are completely unfit for office.”

Fracking involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into underground shale beds to release natural gas.

Critics say it poses a risk to climate change and public health, while advocates say it could support hundreds of new jobs and add millions to the economy.

Ineos, who currently import shale gas from the United States as a chemical feedstock, want to source it in Scotland.

The SNP government’s preferred position is to not to support fracking.

However its progress has been painfully slow - it set up an expert panel in 2013, introduced a moratorium in 2015, ordered more research in 2016, and consulted on fracking in 2017.

In March, ministers indefinitely delayed a decision on whether to allow it, as it wanted to take yet more soundings on the subject.

A final decision had been due by the end of March.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "The Court of Session found in favour of the Scottish Government on this important issue which has been a cause of acute concern in communities across Scotland.

"The Court of Session’s decision also vindicated the extensive process of research and consultation which the Scottish Government has undertaken since 2015.

"Our preferred position, which was supported by the Scottish Parliament, is not to support Unconventional Oil and Gas extraction in Scotland. That position remains unchanged.

"This is subject to completion of the statutory Strategic Environmental Assessment and Business Regulatory Impact Assessment, both of which will conclude by the end of this calendar year. In defending our preferred policy position, Scottish Ministers were also defending the will of Parliament.”