FRACKING is obviously a dangerous concept – it can undermine a government’s policy foundations and cause severe structural damage to its credibility. Yesterday, the SNP administration was accused of extracting a liquid substance with its stance on fracking, which it told the world it had banned, only to change that to having a “preferred position” against the controversial practice.

Accordingly, the Court of Session rejected a bid by would-be frackers Ineos to overturn the ban as there was no such ban, only an evolving planning policy. To that extent, yesterday’s ruling was a legal victory for the administration, but a political defeat as Ineos and the Tories cast aspersions on its competence and suggested it had performed a sleight of hand.

On a day during which nothing was as it seemed, everyone was a winner, and everyone was a loser. In one sense, this was an exercise in semantics. The new party line is that there is at present a “moratorium” on fracking, and to all intents and purposes observers might conclude that there is therefore an “effective ban”.

Seen thus, yesterday’s ruling is hardly as seismic as the frackers and their allies make out – particularly as they lost. But there is no doubt that it was embarrassing for the administration to learn that its previous talk of a ban was “mistaken” and that no such ban was legally in place.

To make matters worse, it looked distinctly weaselly to change the words on its website from “The Scottish Government has put in place a ban on fracking in Scotland” (Tuesday’s position) to “No fracking can take place in Scotland and that remains the case” (Wednesday’s position).

The second part of the statement is meaningless anyway, unless yesterday’s ruling effectively translates it as “No fracking can take place in Scotland and that is not the case”.

So much for semantics. Clearly, there is quite a lot of double-speak going on, which has led to confusion and farce. Fracking is not a popular practice in Scotland, so declaring high-handedly that it had been banned was a vote-winner at the time. For electors to learn now that no such thing had taken place is discomforting and a little bewildering.

Environmentalists are reassured by the SNP’s declared opposition to fracking, a position that the administration says it is at present “finalising”. Campaigners said yesterday that they would now like to see a proper ban, presumably as distinct from a mutable one, and that is something that perhaps the Government’s finest legal minds will now consider.

However, it would be understandable if the highest echelons of Government were tempted to declare a ban on bans for the moment – or at least a moratorium.