Wedge Politics

Alex Salmond has been accused of using wedge politics over Scotland’s oil revenues.

He has asked the UK treasury for a slice of the unexpected profit that the treasury has gained, given the high oil prices recntly.

Wedge politics is issuing controversial issues to split the opposition support.

In this case, for example, the wedge issue would be oil.

Many people around the UK have been complaining about the high price of oil. The SNP have suggested a fuel duty regulator – as the Treasury earns more money from the high oil price, it cuts other fuel dutys on oil slightly, thus giving our oil-dependent economy a bit of breathing space.

This idea has been taken up by several Labour MPs, chief among them Stephen Ladyman – mentioned before in this blog on The English Labour Party – the former Transport minister.

The other idea Alex Salmond has been promoting has been an oil fund for Scotland, much like the Norwegian model – again mentioned before on this blog Arc of Prosperity. This idea is not new, and again Labour MPs were supportive; Malcolm Wicks, UK Energy minister, speaking in October 2007:- “If you could replay history, the idea as in Norway of building up a national [oil] fund is actually quite an attractive one.” Of course now that Alex Salmond has once again raised the issue, the Labour Party is trying to backtrack on the issue.

The idea of an oil fund was first suggested by Gavin McCrone in his report of 1974. See my blog End Game for more on that.

Wedge issues or not, they prove that it is not just the public that is swayed by sensible ideas. Even opposition MPs can be swayed.

Wikipedia has these four aims of wedge politics when used against other political parties:-

1. A debate, often vitriolic, within the opposing party, giving the public a perception of disarray.
2. The defection of supporters of the opposing party’s minority faction to the other party (or independent parties) if they lose the debate.
3. The legitimising of sentiment which, while perhaps popularly held, is usually considered inappropriate or politically incorrect; criticisms from the opposition then make it appear beholden to special interests or fringe ideology.
4. In an extreme case, a wedge issue might contribute to the actual fracture of the opposing party as another party spins off, taking voters with it.

I would suggest that here only the first point is valid, although in this case the Labour Party were already perceived to be in disarray before the oil issue. Various disastrous election results and the ill thought 10p tax issue has already proved the point.

Politics like this have always happened the world over. The name Wedge politics and its formalising as a political technique, is based on an Australian immigration issue of 2001.

At the time, Australia was the target of shipbound asylum seekers. A distressed ship’s passengers were picked up by the Norwegian ship MV Tampa and 460 asylum seekers boarded.

The governing Liberal Party wanted to look tough on asylum seekers, the opposition Labour Party were largely in favour of more lenient policies. With public opinion on the side of the Liberals, the Labour Party leader Kim Beazley changed tack and also favoured the tougher policies. The Labour Party appeared split and thus lost many voters.

Wedge politics have also been used in the United States, where the Democrat party managed to split the Republicans on immigration issues in 2007; and in Canada where the Conservatives try and split the Liberal Party on gay marriage policies, and the Liberals try and split the Conservatives on bilingualism.

I suspect though that the SNP policy is not formulated by wedge politics. Scratch under the skin of the SNP’s policies and they all come down to one single thing. It was highlighted in Alex Salmond’s first speech as First Minister in the Scottish Parliament.

“I commit myself to leadership wholly and exclusively in the Scottish national interest”

It’s SNP policy to stand up for Scotland. Every issue, every time.

For the unionist parties, thats a tough one to wedge.


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