Unitary state

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Unitary states
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A unitary state is a state governed as a single power in which the central government is ultimately supreme. 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 (165 of the 193 UN member states) have a unitary system of government. [2]

State (polity) Organised community living under a system of government; either a sovereign state, constituent state, or federated state

The term state refers to a form of polity that is typically characterised as a centralized organisation. There is no single, undisputed definition of what constitutes a state. A widely-used definition is a state being a polity that, within a given territory, maintains a monopoly on the use of force, but many other widely used definitions exist.

A central government is the government that holds absolute supremacy over a unitary state. Its 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.

Administrative division A territorial entity for administration purposes

An administrative division, unit, entity, area or region, also referred to as a subnational entity, constituent unit, or country subdivision, is a portion of a country or other region delineated for the purpose of administration. Administrative divisions are granted a certain degree of autonomy and are usually required to manage themselves through their own local governments. Countries are divided up into these smaller units to make managing their land and the affairs of their people easier. A country may be divided into provinces, which, in turn, may be divided in whole or in part into municipalities.


Unitary states stand in contrast with federations, also known as federal states. In federations, the sub-national 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]

Federation A union of partially self-governing states or territories united by a central government that exercises power over them

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, the 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. It is often argued that federal states where the central government has the constitutional authority to suspend a constituent state's government by invoking gross mismanagement or civil unrest, or to adopt national legislation that overrides or infringe on the constituent states' powers by invoking the central government's constitutional authority to ensure "peace and good government" or to implement obligations contracted under an international treaty, are not truly federal states.

Constitution Set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed

A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles or established precedents that constitute the legal basis of a polity, organisation or other type of entity, and commonly determine how that entity is to be governed.

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. [4] Many unitary states have no areas possessing a degree of autonomy. [5] In such countries, sub-national regions cannot decide their own laws. Examples are Romania, the Republic of Ireland and the Kingdom of Norway. [6]

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Scotland Country in Northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It covers the northern third of the island of Great Britain, with a border with England to the southeast, and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and more than 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Wales Country in northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, and the Bristol Channel to the south. It had a population in 2011 of 3,063,456 and has a total area of 20,779 km2 (8,023 sq mi). Wales has over 1,680 miles (2,700 km) of coastline and is largely mountainous with its higher peaks in the north and central areas, including Snowdon, its highest summit. The country lies within the north temperate zone and has a changeable, maritime climate.

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

List of unitary republics and unitary kingdom

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

Unitary republics

Afghanistan A landlocked south-central Asian country

Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in South-Central Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan in the south and east; Iran in the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the north; and in the far northeast, China. Much of its 652,000 square kilometers (252,000 sq mi) is covered by the Hindu Kush mountain range at the western end of the Himalayas, separating the Amu Darya and Indus valleys. Kabul is the capital and largest city.

Albania country in Southeast Europe

Albania, officially the Republic of Albania, is a country in Southeast Europe on the Adriatic and Ionian Sea within the Mediterranean Sea. It shares land borders with Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, North Macedonia to the east, Greece to the south and a maritime border with Greece and Italy to the west.

Algeria Country in North Africa

Algeria, officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. The capital and most populous city is Algiers, located in the far north of the country on the Mediterranean coast. With an area of 2,381,741 square kilometres (919,595 sq mi), Algeria is the tenth-largest country in the world, the world's largest Arab country, and the largest in Africa. Algeria is bordered to the northeast by Tunisia, to the east by Libya, to the west by Morocco, to the southwest by the Western Saharan territory, Mauritania, and Mali, to the southeast by Niger, and to the north by the Mediterranean Sea. The country is a semi-presidential republic consisting of 48 provinces and 1,541 communes (counties). It has the highest human development index of all non-island African countries.

Unitary monarchies

Andorra European microstate between France and Spain

Andorra, officially the Principality of Andorra, also called the Principality of the Valleys of Andorra, is a sovereign landlocked microstate on the Iberian Peninsula, in the eastern Pyrenees, bordered by France to the north and Spain to the south. Believed to have been created by Charlemagne, Andorra was ruled by the Count of Urgell until 988, when it was transferred to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Urgell, and the present principality was formed by a charter in 1278. It is known as a principality as it is a diarchy headed by two Princes: the Catholic Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia, Spain, and the President of France.

Antigua and Barbuda Country in the Caribbean

Antigua and Barbuda is a country in the West Indies in the Americas, lying between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It consists of two major islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and a number of smaller islands. The permanent population numbers about 95,900, with 97% being resident on Antigua. The capital and largest port and city is St. John's on Antigua, with Codrington being the largest town on Barbuda. Lying near each other, Antigua and Barbuda are in the middle of the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles, roughly at 17°N of the equator.

Bahrain Sovereign island state in the Persian Gulf

Bahrain, officially the Kingdom of Bahrain, is an island country in the Persian Gulf. The sovereign state comprises a small archipelago centered around Bahrain Island, situated between the Qatar peninsula and the north eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, to which it is connected by the 25-kilometre (16 mi) King Fahd Causeway. Bahrain's population is 1,234,561, including 666,172 non-nationals. It is 765.3 square kilometres (295.5 sq mi) in size, making it the third-smallest nation in Asia after the Maldives and Singapore.

See also

Related Research Articles

Federalism political concept

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. It 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.

A federated state is a territorial and constitutional community forming part of a federation. Such states differ from fully sovereign states, in that they do not have full sovereign powers, as the sovereign powers have been divided between the federated states and the central or federal government. Importantly, federated states do not have standing as entities of international law. Instead, the federal union as a single entity is the sovereign state for purposes of international law. Depending on the constitutional structure of a particular federation, a federated state can hold various degrees of legislative, judicial and administrative jurisdiction over a defined geographic territory and is a form of regional government.

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".

A constituent state is a state entity that constitutes a part of a sovereign state. A constituent state holds regional jurisdiction over a defined administrative territory, within a sovereign state. Government of a constituent state is a form of regional government. Throughout history, and also in modern political practice, most constituent states are part of complex states, like federations or confederations. Constituent states can have republican or monarchical forms of government. Those of republican form are usually called states or autonomous states, republics or autonomous republics, or cantons. Those that have a monarchical form of government are often defined by traditional hierarchical rank of their ruler.

The Barnett formula is a mechanism used by the Treasury in the United Kingdom to automatically adjust the amounts of public expenditure allocated to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to reflect changes in spending levels allocated to public services in England, England and Wales or Great Britain, as appropriate. The formula applies to a large proportion, but not the whole, of the devolved governments' budgets − in 2013–14 it applied to about 85% of the Scottish Parliament's total budget.

Autonomous administrative division region with some freedom from its central government

An autonomous administrative division is a subdivision or dependent territory of a country that has a degree of self-governance, or autonomy, from an external authority. Typically, it is either geographically distinct from the rest of the country 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. Countries that include autonomous areas may be federacies, federations, or confederations. Autonomous areas can be divided into territorial autonomies, subregional territorial autonomies, and local autonomies.

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 federacy is a form of government where one or several substate units enjoy considerably more independence than the majority of the substate units. To some extent, such an arrangement can be considered to be similar to asymmetric federalism.

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".

Federal government of Mexico

The Federal government of Mexico is the national government of the United Mexican States, the central government established by its constitution to share sovereignty over the republic with the governments of the 31 individual Mexican states, and to represent such governments before international bodies such as the United Nations. The Mexican federal government has three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial and functions per the Constitution of the United Mexican States, as enacted in 1917, and as amended. The executive power is exercised by the executive branch, which is headed by the president and his Cabinet, which, together, are independent of the legislature. Legislative power is vested upon the Congress of the Union, a bicameral legislature comprising the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Judicial power is exercised by the judiciary, consisting of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, the Council of the Federal Judiciary, and the collegiate, unitary, and district courts.

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 National Assembly for Wales, 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, each of which has its own cabinet, legislature and First Minister, has traditionally been a unitary state, governed by the central Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster. Instead of adopting a federal model, such as that of the United States, for example, United Kingdom continues to employ a system of devolution, in which political power is gradually decentralized.


  1. "What is a Unitary State?". WorldAtlas. Retrieved 2019-02-22.
  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. 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.
  5. "unitary system | government". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-08-11.
  6. Svalbard has even less autonomy than the mainland. It is directly controlled by the government and has no local rule.
  7. Roy Bin Wong. China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience. Cornell University Press.
  8. "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.
  9. "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.