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.
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In unitary states, the central government may create (or abolish) administrative divisions (sub-national units).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.
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.
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.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.
Italics: States with limited recognition from other sovereign states or intergovernmental organizations.
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.
Federalism is a mixed or compound mode of government that combines a general government with regional governments in a single political system. Its distinctive feature, first embodied in the Constitution of the United States of 1789, is a relationship of parity between the two levels of government established. It can thus be defined as a form of government in which powers are divided between two levels of government of equal status.
In Spain, an autonomous community is a first-level political and administrative division, created in accordance with the Spanish constitution of 1978, with the aim of guaranteeing limited autonomy of the nationalities and regions that make up Spain.
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, thus granting them a higher level of autonomy.
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.
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".
Regionalism is a political ideology which seeks to increase the political power, influence and/or self-determination of the people of one or more subnational regions. It focuses 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 authorised or delegated to it by its federated states, though the adjective 'central' is sometimes also used to describe it.
An autonomous administrative division is a subnational administrative division or internal territory of a sovereign state that has a degree of autonomy — self-governance — under the national government. 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.
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 governments. 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 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. 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.
A Cornish Assembly is a proposed devolved law-making assembly for Cornwall along the lines of the Scottish Parliament, the Senedd and the Northern Ireland Assembly in the United Kingdom.
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".
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 fulfil 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.
In the United Kingdom, devolution is the Parliament of the United Kingdom's statutory granting of a greater level of self-government to the Scottish Parliament, the Senedd, 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 refers to the distribution of power between constituent countries and regions of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom, despite being composed of four countries 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 employs a system of devolution, in which political power is gradually decentralised. Devolution differs from federalism in that devolved regions are not states and thus have no constitutional precedence. As such, an Act of Parliament could undo devolution, whereas the federal United States government cannot revoke a state's statehood. Devolution has only been extended to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Greater London, with London being the only English region to have significantly devolved power.