WHAT on earth is the SNP’s true position on fracking? On the one hand, party HQ produces green banners emblazoned with the words “Frack Off”; on the other, the billionaire seeking to establish fracking in Scotland says he has received private assurances from the SNP that the party is not opposed to the process. In recent months, the Scottish Government has also presided over a temporary ban on fracking that is less than robust and looks to most observers like an attempt to park any awkward questions until after the elections in May.

The latest comments by Nicola Sturgeon on the issue have done little to clear up the matter either. At Holyrood this week, the Labour leader Kezia Dugdale challenged Ms Sturgeon to commit to a permanent ban, but the First Minister ducked questions on the government’s long-term commitment to the moratorium at the same time as her spokesman was saying she was “highly sceptical” about fracking. He also trotted out the party’s favourite mantra on the issue: our decision will be based on the evidence.

None of this leaves us any further forward on determining if fracking has a future in Scotland or should be banned forever ¬ indeed, the Scottish Government has furiously resisted attempts to shed some light on the situation. This week, it released more information about a meeting Ms Sturgeon held with Jim Ratcliffe, the head of Ineos and the Grangemouth plant, but it only did so after a long battle for the information and key passages of the minutes were redacted. Whatever the intention, the secrecy and shiftiness only serves to heighten the concerns of those who would like to see fracking banned from Scotland for good.

In reality, the situation is not quite that simple. Some of the effects attributed to fracking such as earth tremors and water contamination have naturally deepened the anxiety around fracking – the process will also add to global warming. But the process, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into coal or shale to extract gas, could provide a new source of energy at a time when Scotland is still a long way from being able to rely on renewables alone. It would be wrong to rule it out if it can be proved to be safe.

Despite all the mixed messages, it looks likely that this is the Scottish Government’s position on the matter too, but that it is afraid to say so – certainly before the election anyway. Whenever challenged on the subject, the government keeps saying it is taking a cautious, evidence based approach but we know that the reports it has already commissioned on fracking have concluded the environmental risks can be safely managed. Which means that the continuing delay is down to one thing only: the SNP knows many of its supporters are vehemently anti-fracking and there’s an election coming up.

As a strategy to win an election, that is perfectly understandable, but it is regrettable that the Scottish Government has not moved sooner to end the uncertainty on fracking. We do not know precisely what was said at that meeting between the First Minister and Ineos, but no party can get away with telling business one thing and protestors another. Every other party at Holyrood has a clear and unequivocal policy on fracking – it is time the SNP had one too.