What is a Unitary State?

The United Kingdom is a popularly cited example of a unitary state.
The United Kingdom is a popularly cited example of a unitary state.

A unitary state refers to a country that has one supreme authority which rules over all other delegations. A unitary state is the opposite of a federation where powers are dispersed. A unitary state only exercises the powers that the central government decides to delegate. Most states worldwide work under a unitary system of government, for example, 165 out of a possible 192 states that are members of the UN are unitary states. Sub-national units are either abolished or created in a unitary state. An example of this is the merging of French regions. The central government may narrow or broaden the powers of the sub-national units. Under a unitary system of government, political powers can be difused to a local government by statutes through devolution. However, the central government still maintains supreme powers and may invalidate the powers of devolved governments or revoke their acts.

Examples of Unitary States

A good example of a unitary state includes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland hold some degree of devolved and autonomous power. Such power can only be authorized by the Parliament of the UK which possesses the power to enact laws, abolishing or unilaterally revising devolution. A number of unitary states comprise of zero areas that possess a degree of autonomy. In these states, sub-national areas are not in a position to decide their laws. Examples of areas include the Kingdom of Norway and the Republic of Ireland. The sub-national governments in federal states share powers as equal actors with the central government through a written constitution which both parties have to consent to for amendments to be done. However, this limits the control that the central government can have over its smaller units. Some of the other unitary states include Italy, Japan, People's Republic of China, Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Algeria, Denmark, Kazakhstan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Uganda, Haiti, Guatemala, Iceland, and Kenya among many others.

Unitary States in Contrast to Federations

Unitary states can be compared to federations, and the US is a good example of such. According to the US Constitution, powers belong to both the individual states as well as the federal government. Under Article V of the Constitution, it is stated that for an amendment to take effect, the approval of three-quarters of the states is needed in some legislatures. This system protects the states from over-domination of central powers.

Advantages of Having a Unitary Government

There are several merits and advantages of a unitary government. Compared to a federal system of government, a unitary system is considered more strong and powerful. When a central power controls all state affairs, the country can potentially be saved from breakage thus maintaining its prestige, solidarity, and integrity. A unitary government is also considered a simple form of government since its national defense and internal and foreign policies are handled efficiently. The system saves a good amount of time making it possible for the government to solve its issues and affairs quite rapidly. Since unitary states have a central unified command, all types of laws, functions, and administrative policies are the same throughout the nation. Uniform laws ensure that there is no tension since people are less likely to get agitated over a law that applies throughout the nation.


More in Politics