Unitary state

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Unitary states
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A unitary state is a state governed as a single entity in which the central government is ultimately supreme. Unitary states stand in contrast with federations, also known as federal states.



Territorial organization of some European countries. Among European Union states, Austria, Belgium and Germany are federal states. Territorial organization of European countries.svg
Territorial organization of some European countries. Among European Union states, Austria, Belgium and Germany are federal states.

In unitary states, the central government may create (or abolish) administrative divisions (sub-national units). [1] Such units exercise only the powers that the central government chooses to delegate. Although political power may be delegated through devolution to regional or local governments by statute, the central government may abrogate the acts of devolved governments or curtail (or expand) their powers. A large majority of the world's states (166 of the 193 UN member states) have a unitary system of government. [2]

The pathway of regional integration or separation The pathway of regional integration or separation.png
The pathway of regional integration or separation

In federations, the provincial/regional governments share powers with the central government as equal actors through a written constitution, to which the consent of both is required to make amendments. This means that the sub-national units have a right of existence and powers that cannot be unilaterally changed by the central government. [3]

Devolution within a unitary state, like federalism may be symmetrical, with all sub-national units having the same powers and status, or asymmetric, with sub-national units varying in their powers and status. Many unitary states have no areas possessing a degree of autonomy. [4] In such countries, sub-national regions cannot decide their own laws. Examples are Romania, Ireland and Norway. Svalbard has even less autonomy than the mainland. It is directly controlled by the government and has no local rule.

List of unitary republics and unitary kingdoms

Italics: States with limited recognition from other sovereign states or intergovernmental organizations.

Unitary republics

Unitary monarchies

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is an example of a unitary state. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a degree of autonomous devolved power, but such power is delegated by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which may enact laws unilaterally altering or abolishing devolution (England does not have any devolved power). Similarly in the Kingdom of Spain, the devolved powers are delegated through the central government.

See also

Related Research Articles

Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government with regional governments in a single political system. Its distinctive feature, exemplified in the founding example of modern federalism by the United States under the Constitution of 1787, is a relationship of parity between the two levels of government established. Federalism can thus be defined as a form of government in which there is a division of powers between two levels of government of equal status.

Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to govern at a subnational level, such as a regional or local level. It is a form of administrative decentralization. Devolved territories have the power to make legislation relevant to the area and thus granting them a higher level of autonomy.

Federation Political union of partially self-governing territories under a central government

A federation is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing provinces, states, or other regions under a central federal government (federalism). In a federation, the self-governing status of the component states, as well as the division of power between them and the central government, is typically constitutionally entrenched and may not be altered by a unilateral decision of either party, the states or the federal political body. Alternatively, a federation is a form of government in which sovereign power is formally divided between a central authority and a number of constituent regions so that each region retains some degree of control over its internal affairs.

Home rule is government of a colony, dependent country, or region by its own citizens. It is thus the power of a constituent part of a state to exercise such of the state's powers of governance within its own administrative area that have been decentralized to it by the central government.

Administrative geography of the United Kingdom Geographical subdivisions of local government in Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The administrative geography of the United Kingdom is complex, multi-layered and non-uniform. The United Kingdom, a sovereign state to the northwest of continental Europe, consists of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. For local government in the United Kingdom, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have their own system of administrative and geographic demarcation. Consequently, there is "no common stratum of administrative unit encompassing the United Kingdom".

Politics of England

The Politics of England forms the major part of the wider politics of the United Kingdom, with England being more populous than all the other countries of the United Kingdom put together. As England is also by far the largest in terms of area and GDP, its relationship to the UK is somewhat different from that of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The English capital London is also the capital of the UK, and English is the dominant language of the UK. Dicey and Morris (p26) list the separate states in the British Islands. "England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark.... is a separate country in the sense of the conflict of laws, though not one of them is a State known to public international law." But this may be varied by statute.

In politics, regionalism is a political ideology focusing on the "development of a political or social system based on one or more" regions and/or the national, normative or economic interests of a specific region, group of regions or another subnational entity, gaining strength from or aiming to strengthen the "consciousness of and loyalty to a distinct region with a homogeneous population", similarly to nationalism. More specifically, "regionalism refers to three distinct elements: movements demanding territorial autonomy within unitary states; the organization of the central state on a regional basis for the delivery of its policies including regional development policies; political decentralization and regional autonomy".

A central government is the government that is a controlling power over a unitary state. Always equivalent in a federation is the federal government, which may have distinct powers at various levels authorized or delegated to it by its federated states, though the adjective 'central' is sometimes also used to describe it.

Autonomous administrative division Designation for an administrative territorial entity

An autonomous administrative division is a subdivision or dependent territory of a sovereign state that has a degree of autonomy — self-governance — from an external authority. Autonomous areas are distinct from the constituent units of a federation in that they possess unique powers for their given circumstances. Typically, it is either geographically distinct from the rest of the state or populated by a national minority. Decentralization of self-governing powers and functions to such divisions is a way for a national government to try to increase democratic participation or administrative efficiency or to defuse internal conflicts. States that include autonomous areas may be federacies, federations, or confederations. Autonomous areas can be divided into territorial autonomies, subregional territorial autonomies, and local autonomies.

Regional state Form of state

A regional state or a regionalised unitary state, is a term used to denote a type of state that is formally unitary but where a high degree of political power has been highly decentralised to regional goverrnments. This contrasts with a state organized on principles of federalism where the powers of the regions are enshrined in constitutional law. In many cases, the regions are based on long standing cultural or regional divisions.

Asymmetric federalism or asymmetrical federalism is found in a federation or confederation in which different constituent states possess different powers: one or more of the substates has considerably more autonomy than the other substates, although they have the same constitutional status. The division of powers between substates is not symmetric. This is in contrast to symmetric federalism, where no distinction is made between constituent states. As a result, it is frequently proposed as a solution to the dissatisfactions that arise when one or two constituent units feel significantly different needs from the others, as the result of an ethnic, linguistic or cultural difference.

Coconstitutionalism is where two institutional cultures exist in a complex semi-autonomous relationship to each other. The model of asymmetrical devolution that has emerged in democratic Spain has been called "coconstitutional" in that it is neither a federal nor a unitary model of government: autonomous nation-regions exist alongside and within the Spanish nation-state in a relatively dynamic relationship.

Reserved and excepted matters

In the United Kingdom reserved matters and excepted matters are the areas of public policy where the UK Parliament has retained the exclusive power (jurisdiction) to make laws (legislate) in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A Cornish Assembly is a proposed devolved law-making assembly for Cornwall along the lines of the Scottish Parliament, the Senedd Cymru and the Northern Ireland Assembly in the United Kingdom.

A province is almost always an administrative division within a country or state. The term derives from the ancient Roman provincia, which was the major territorial and administrative unit of the Roman Empire's territorial possessions outside Italy. The term province has since been adopted by many countries. In some countries with no actual provinces, "the provinces" is a metaphorical term meaning "outside the capital city".

Regions of England Highest tier of sub-national division in England

The regions, formerly known as the government office regions, are the highest tier of sub-national division in England. Between 1994 and 2011, nine regions had officially devolved functions within government. While they no longer fulfill this role, they continue to be used for statistical and some administrative purposes. While the UK was a member of the European Union, they defined areas (constituencies) for the purposes of elections to the European Parliament. Eurostat also used them to demarcate first level Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) regions within the European Union. The regions generally follow the boundaries of the former standard regions, established in the 1940s for statistical purposes.

Devolution in the United Kingdom Granting Parliamentary powers to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

In the United Kingdom, devolution is the statutory granting of powers from the Parliament of the United Kingdom to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the London Assembly and to their associated executive bodies the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and in England, the Greater London Authority and combined authorities.

Federalism in the United Kingdom

Federalism in the United Kingdom refers to the distribution of power between countries and regions of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom, despite being composed of four countries, three of which have their own cabinet, legislature and First Minister, has traditionally been a unitary state, governed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in Westminster. Instead of adopting a federal model, such as that of the United States, the United Kingdom continues to employ a system of devolution, in which political power is gradually decentralized. Devolution differs from federalism in that authority ultimately remains with the British Government, and as such the United Kingdom remains a de jure unitary state, where an Act of Parliament could theoretically remove these powers. Devolution has only been extended to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Greater London, and London remains the only region of England to have significantly devolved power.


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  2. "Democracy". www.un.org. 2015-11-20. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  3. Ghai, Yash; Regan, Anthony J. (September 2006). "Unitary state, devolution, autonomy, secession: State building and nation building in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea". The Round Table. 95 (386): 589–608. doi:10.1080/00358530600931178. ISSN   0035-8533.
  4. "unitary system | government". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-08-11.
  5. Roy Bin Wong. China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience. Cornell University Press.
  6. "Story: Nation and government – From colony to nation". The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 29 August 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  7. "Social policy in the UK". An introduction to Social Policy. Robert Gordon University – Aberdeen Business School. Archived from the original on 4 July 2014. Retrieved 19 April 2014.