THE SNP spent more on their attempt to win the Shetland byelection than they did on the EU referendum, it has emerged.

The party’s Northern Isles campaign, which included three visits by Nicola Sturgeon, cost just under the £100,000 legal spending limit. 

In the 2016 referendum, the SNP spent around £91,000 opposing Brexit, or 13 per cent of the legal limit.

The Liberal Democrats, who successfully held the Holyrood seat in August’s byelection, said it showed the SNP’s “cynicism” on the EU.

Orkney & Shetland LibDem MP Alistair Carmichael said: “They back the EU with words, but the truth is that they see Brexit as a golden opportunity to push independence.”

The byelection was triggered by former ScottishLibDem leader Tavish Scott resigned after 20 years as an MSP to work for Scottish Rugby.

Despite Shetland being the safest seat in the country, the SNP threw money and manpower into the fight in the hope of a surprise upset. 

Ms Sturgeon, who had never been to the constituency outside an election, made three trips, with most of the Scottish cabinet visiting at one point. 

Official candidate spending returns show the SNP spent £98,958 on its unsuccessful bid to get their candidate Tom Willis elected. 

READ MORE:  Shetland by-election: Lib Dems hold off SNP

The Scottish LibDems spent £64,534 on their winning campaign for Beatrice Wishart.

Despite being seen as a two-horse race, the Tories spent £18,263 to get 425 votes

Labour spent £4088, Ukip £1985 and the Scottish Greens £1441.

The SNP recorded its best result in Shetland in the byelection on a 14.4% swing.

However, Ms Wishart polled 5659 votes to Mr Wills’s 3822, a majority of 1837.

In the 2016 Holyrood election, Mr Scott had won by 4895 votes.

The SNP spent more than twice the amount per vote than the LibDems.

The Nationalist campaign worked out at £25.89 per vote, while the LibDems’ was £11.40.

The biggest financial losers among the parties were the Scottish Tories, who spent a staggering £42.97 on each vote.

Labour spent £26.89 per vote, Ukip £24.03 and the Greens £10.50.

However the worst rate of return belonged to independent Peter Tait, who spent £1615 on winning 31 votes, or £52.10 per vote.

Independent Ryan Thomson, who came third, spent just £82, or six pence per vote.

There were 10 candidates and turnout was 66.4%. 

Ms Wishart’s campaign focused on local issues, notably poor ferry services.

The SNP’s campaign concentrated on Brexit, with Ms Sturgeon arguing a win for the SNP would send a message to Boris Johnson that Scotland didn’t want to leave the EU.

However, the SNP found itself on the back foot over services and started promising lower ferry fares by the end of the campaign.

In the EU referendum, the SNP spent £90,830, of which £64,105 went on leaflets and £26,725 on advertising. The spending limit for the SNP was £700,000.

The EU spending was also less than the SNP spent more fighting a Westminster byelection in Glenrothes in 2008, when it splashed £98,597 only to lose to Labour.

Mr Carmichael added: "The fact that the SNP spent more on the by-election in Shetland than in the entire EU referendum campaign speaks volumes. 

READ MORE: No-deal Brexit 'would risk taking UK to breaking point' 

“It is disappointing but hardly surprising, considering how much lucre they flashed around in the Northern Isles over the summer.

"Apparently one more vote for independence in Holyrood was worth more to the nationalists than their European values. It's a shame they don't put their money where their mouth is.

"It shows the cynicism of the SNP leadership's position on the EU. They tell their supporters one story on Europe, but their actions tell another.”

The pro-EU campaigner Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray said: “This revelation confirms that the SNP doesn’t care less about stopping Brexit. Nicola Sturgeon has always seen the vote to leave the EU as nothing but an opportunity to break up the UK.

“She doesn’t really care about the impact of Brexit on the most vulnerable in the rest of the UK – all she cares about is independence.”

SNP MSP Rona Mackay said: "This is an incoherent and frankly laughable attack from the Lib Dems.

"The SNP has been and remains the strongest advocate for Scotland's place in Europe – and, of course, in the Brexit referendum Scotland voted overwhelmingly to Remain. 

"The reality is the Lib Dems would rather see Scotland taken out of the EU with a Tory Brexit than be a member state of Europe in our own right.

“They should be helping to remove Boris Johnson from office, so that we can hold a general election and stop Brexit - instead of pandering to Tory voters as Jo Swinson has been doing."