“The unitary state is the most common form of government in the world” [Source], as statistics show that of the 193 member countries of the United Nations, 165 are unitary states. Unitary States are credited for bringing law and order. This article will delve more into the underlying aspects of Unitary States.
What is a Unitary State?
A unitary state, or a unitary government, is a “governing system in which a single central government has total power over all its other political subdivisions” [Source]. Wikipedia defines it as a “state governed as a single entity in which the central government is the supreme authority. The central government may create administrative divisions. Such units exercise only the central government’s powers to delegate” [Source]. Under a unitary state, political subdivisions are expected to execute duties given by the central government, and these subdivisions do not have any power to act on their own.
A unitary state can also be explained as a “system of political organization in which most or all of the governing power resides in a centralized government, in contrast to a federal state” [Source]. The central government is tasked to give duties and roles to all subnational units and roll out policies that must be followed when it comes to implementing things.
The setup of a unitary state differs as per country; for example, Great Britain “decentralizes power in practice though not in constitutional principle”. France has a different centralized administrative, which has some members of local government that were elected and others who the central government-appointed. “In the United States, all states have unitary governments with bicameral legislatures (except) Nebraska, which has a unicameral legislature”. Despite these differences, “all local governments in a unitary state are subject to a central authority”.
Examples of Unitary States
Popular examples of Unitary States are United Kingdom, France, Italy, Japan, the People’s Republic of China and the Philippines [Source].
Advantages of Unitary States
Advantages of unitary states include acting quickly because all decisions are made by a single governing body, so time is not wasted in consulting or creating voting boards, whether it is domestic or foreign issues. Unitary states can operate efficiently due to the absence of multiple levels of governmental bureaucracy, reducing costs and reducing the burden on taxpayers’ money. A unitary state is usually small and can govern a nation while stationed at a single location with a limited number of elected officials. The required small workforce can execute all duties needed without extra hands needed to help.
Disadvantages of Unitary States
Disadvantages of Unitary States include the lack of infrastructure development because they are small and do not work towards expanding further. They suffer significant blows from world pandemics such as the current covid-19 pandemic and natural disasters. Also, they can be overwhelmed to the extent of ignoring local needs or categorising them as ‘irrelevant’ due to a lack of resources and manpower. Unitary states tend to encourage the abuse of power by greedy politicians and dictators because historical records clearly show that power placed in the hands of a few can be easily abused. These states also hate decentralising power and can create a permanent corrupt system that might take years to uproot.
Difference between Unitary States and Federal States
A unitary state is the opposite of a federal state. A federation is a “constitutionally organized union or alliance of partially self-governing states or other regions under a central federal government”, and a unitary state entails a system of governance whereby a central government has total power over all its other political subdivisions In a federal state or federation, governmental powers and responsibilities are divided [Source]. In a unitary state, local governments are powerless because they cannot act on their own but under a federation, they do enjoy some degree of freedom in certain internal issues.
Is the US a Unitary State?
All states in the US have unitary governments with bicameral legislatures, which means that it has two legislative houses (House of Representatives & Senate), but Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral legislature. The central government in the US is called the federal government and it has total power over all the states in the federation. The federal government is divided into three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. The executive branch is headed by the President, the legislative branch is Congress (made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate) and the judicial branch is made up of the Supreme Court. A unitary state’s local governments are all subject to a central authority.