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Decentralization: An Institutional Strategy of Appeasement
Unformatted Document Text:  36 decentralization schemes when power is concentrated in a nationally oriented leadership with policy-making autonomy and tools to enforce party discipline. An analysis of the decentralization policies pursued in Great Britain illustrates the power of my institutional appeasement story over those of the competing hypotheses. Decentralization was not the object of universal agreement across all political parties as Stepan (1999; 2001) suggests, nor was the degree of powers decentralized by the Labour Party reflective of the cultural, linguistic or even economic heterogeneity of the British regions as argued by Alesina et al. (1999). Rather than a means to strengthen Labour’s electoral support at the subnational level as O’Neill claims (2003; 2005) or the power of Labour’s subnational elite as expected by Garman et al. (2001), devolution was a programmatic means adopted by Labour to co-opt the voters it lost to the Scottish National Party and the Plaid Cymru. Despite their roles as single- issue, regional parties, the SNP and, to a lesser extent, the Plaid Cymru threatened Labour’s victory in marginal seats in its heartland and ultimately its control of the UK government. On the other hands, faced with no significant pro-regionalist threat to its seats in Northern England, the Labour Party did not advocate a comparable regional assembly or parliament for that territory. As shown in the Scottish and Welsh cases, the Labour Party leadership was willing to accept the subnational costs of devolution to effect national-level rewards. However, as hypothesized, both the advocacy and implementation of these plans were subject to the party’s internal constraints. While devolution was initially proposed during the 1970s, widespread elite factionalism and a paucity of party disciplinary control prevented the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly from being created until the organizational reform of the party in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Authors: Meguid, Bonnie.
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36
decentralization schemes when power is concentrated in a nationally oriented leadership with
policy-making autonomy and tools to enforce party discipline.
An analysis of the decentralization policies pursued in Great Britain illustrates the power
of my institutional appeasement story over those of the competing hypotheses. Decentralization
was not the object of universal agreement across all political parties as Stepan (1999; 2001)
suggests, nor was the degree of powers decentralized by the Labour Party reflective of the
cultural, linguistic or even economic heterogeneity of the British regions as argued by Alesina et
al. (1999). Rather than a means to strengthen Labour’s electoral support at the subnational level
as O’Neill claims (2003; 2005) or the power of Labour’s subnational elite as expected by
Garman et al. (2001), devolution was a programmatic means adopted by Labour to co-opt the
voters it lost to the Scottish National Party and the Plaid Cymru. Despite their roles as single-
issue, regional parties, the SNP and, to a lesser extent, the Plaid Cymru threatened Labour’s
victory in marginal seats in its heartland and ultimately its control of the UK government. On
the other hands, faced with no significant pro-regionalist threat to its seats in Northern England,
the Labour Party did not advocate a comparable regional assembly or parliament for that
territory. As shown in the Scottish and Welsh cases, the Labour Party leadership was willing to
accept the subnational costs of devolution to effect national-level rewards. However, as
hypothesized, both the advocacy and implementation of these plans were subject to the party’s
internal constraints. While devolution was initially proposed during the 1970s, widespread elite
factionalism and a paucity of party disciplinary control prevented the Scottish Parliament and
Welsh Assembly from being created until the organizational reform of the party in the late 1980s
and early 1990s.


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