Chapter 8

Report
Chapter 8
Sub-national Politics
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All Politics is local.
Favourite saying of former Speaker of the US House
of Representatives Thomas O’Neill Jr.
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Key issues
• What are the respective benefits of
centralization and decentralization?
• How do federal and unitary systems differ,
and how successfully does each type of
system reconcile territorial and other
differences?
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Centralisation or decentralisation?
• all modern states vary enormously.
• Constitutional framework within which centreperiphery relationships are conducted
• Distribution of functions and responsibilities between
the levels of government
• The means by which their staff are appointed and
recruited
• The political, economic, administrative and other
powers that the centre can use to control the periphery,
and the independence that peripheral bodies enjoy
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The case for centralisation includes the
following:
- National unity
- Uniformity
- Equality
- Prosperity
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The case for decentralisation includes the
following:
- Participation
- Responsiveness
- Legitimacy
- Liberty
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Centre-periphery relationships
• The balance between centralisation and
decentralisation within a state is shaped by a
wide range of historical, cultural,
geographical, economic and political factors.
• The most prominent of these is the
constitutional structure of the state,
particularly the location of sovereignty in
the political system.
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• The most two common forms of territorial
organisation found in the modern world are the
federal and unitary systems. A third form,
confederation, has generally proved to be
unsustainable.
confederations
Federal systems
Unitary systems
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• Confederations establish only the loosest
and most decentralised type of political
union by vesting sovereign power in
peripheral bodies.
• It is most commonly applied in the form of
intergovernmentalism as embodied in
international organisations such as NATO,
UN, OAU and the Commonwealth of
Nations.
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Federal systems
• Over a third of the world’s population is
governed by states that have some kind of
federal structure. E.g., the USA, Australia,
Mexico, Switzerland, Canada, etc.
• No two federal structures are identical, the
central feature of each is a sharing of
sovereignty between central and peripheral
institutions.
• This ensures, at least in theory, that neither
level of government can encroach on the
powers of the other.
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Federal States
Central/federal
government
Checks and Balances
Sovereignty (separate
spheres of constitutional
autonomy
Provincial/state
government
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Features of Federalism
• Each federal system is unique in the sense
that the relationship between federal
(national) government and state (regional)
government is determined not just by
constitutional rules, but also by a complex
of political, historical, geographical, cultural
and social circumstances.
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• There is a further contrast between federal
regimes that operate a ‘separation of
powers’ between the executive and
legislative branches of government (typified
by the US presidential system), and
parliamentary systems in which executive
and legislative power is ‘fused’.
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Certain features are common to most federal
systems:
• Two relatively autonomous levels of government
(policy-maker vs. policy implementation)
• Written constitution (codified; amendment requires
high level of support from both houses and state
legislatures)
• Constitutional arbiter (supreme court arbitrates in the
case of disputes between federal and state levels of
government)
• Linking institutions (to foster cooperation and
understanding, the regions and provinces must be given
a voice in the processes of central policy-making)
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Unitary systems
• The vast majority of contemporary states have unitary
systems of government. These vest sovereign power
in a single, national institution.
• In the UK, this institution is Parliament, which
possesses, unrivalled and unchallengeable legislative
authority.
• Parliament can make or unmake any law it wishes, its
powers are not checked by a codified or written
constitution; there are no rival UK legislatures that
can challenge its authority; and its laws outrank all
other forms of English and Scottish law.
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Sovereignty
Central
government
(constitutional
supremacy)
Devolved/
Regional bodies
Local
government
Unitary States
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• Since constitutional supremacy is vested with
the centre in a unitary system, any system of
peripheral or local government exists at the
pleasure of the centre.
• Local institutions can be reshaped, reorganised
and even abolished at will; their powers and
responsibilities can be contracted as easily as
they can be expanded.
• Devolution establishes the greatest possible
measure of decentralisation in a unitary system
of government, that is, of its transformation
into a federal system.
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Devolution
• It is the transfer of power from central government to
subordinate regional institutions. Devolved bodies
thus constitute an intermediate level of government
between central and local government between
central and local governments. It has no shared
sovereignty.
• Devolution, establishes the greatest possible measure
of decentralisation in a unitary system of government,
i.e., of its transformation into a federal system.
• E.g., Scottish Parliament (tax-varying powers) and
Welsh Assembly (administrative devolution).
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A Politics of Community?
• Social fragmentation and breakdown has
largely been a result of individuals’ obsession
with rights and their refusal to acknowledge
reciprocal duties and moral responsibilities.
This is demonstrated by the so-called
‘parenting deficit’: that is, the abandonment of
the burdens of parenthood by fathers and
mothers who are more concerned about their
own lifestyles and careers.
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