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Decentralization: An Institutional Strategy of Appeasement
Unformatted Document Text:  3 powers to subnational governments that they did not expect to control. Moreover, these decisions were often made against – rather than in response to – the wishes of the parties’ regional elite. By decentralizing political and/or fiscal powers, governing parties were decreasing, not increasing, their subnational strength. To account for the pattern and timing of decentralization reforms, this paper proposes an alternative strategic explanation rooted in the exigencies of party competition between unequals. Whereas the existing explanations have treated decentralization as just one of many possible forms of institutional rearrangement that parties can use to benefit themselves or the country, it is also a specific policy demand of regionalist parties and their voters. For governing parties, I argue, decentralization may be a strategy of policy appeasement designed to bolster the party’s national support by undermining electoral threats from regionalist parties. Increased regional autonomy is effectively traded for regionalist party voter support in national-level elections, with the degree of decentralization dependent upon the degree of regionalist party threat. In aiming to secure national-level voter support, however, the strategizing party may propose governmental and electoral reforms that sabotage its control of the newly constructed, subnational bodies. Since the costs of decentralization are concentrated at the subnational level, I maintain that decentralization is likely to be implemented only when threatened political parties are highly centralized, have a high degree of party discipline and prioritize national-level power over subnational control. In this paper, I test the institutional appeasement argument and the competing theories by analyzing the nature and timing of decentralization reforms across multiple regions within Great Britain, an unlikely decentralizer. An examination of archival documents, party materials and survey data reveals that the asymmetrical decentralization of political and fiscal powers across

Authors: Meguid, Bonnie.
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powers to subnational governments that they did not expect to control. Moreover, these
decisions were often made against – rather than in response to – the wishes of the parties’
regional elite. By decentralizing political and/or fiscal powers, governing parties were
decreasing, not increasing, their subnational strength.
To account for the pattern and timing of decentralization reforms, this paper proposes an
alternative strategic explanation rooted in the exigencies of party competition between unequals.
Whereas the existing explanations have treated decentralization as just one of many possible
forms of institutional rearrangement that parties can use to benefit themselves or the country, it is
also a specific policy demand of regionalist parties and their voters. For governing parties, I
argue, decentralization may be a strategy of policy appeasement designed to bolster the party’s
national support by undermining electoral threats from regionalist parties. Increased regional
autonomy is effectively traded for regionalist party voter support in national-level elections, with
the degree of decentralization dependent upon the degree of regionalist party threat. In aiming to
secure national-level voter support, however, the strategizing party may propose governmental
and electoral reforms that sabotage its control of the newly constructed, subnational bodies.
Since the costs of decentralization are concentrated at the subnational level, I maintain that
decentralization is likely to be implemented only when threatened political parties are highly
centralized, have a high degree of party discipline and prioritize national-level power over
subnational control.
In this paper, I test the institutional appeasement argument and the competing theories by
analyzing the nature and timing of decentralization reforms across multiple regions within Great
Britain, an unlikely decentralizer. An examination of archival documents, party materials and
survey data reveals that the asymmetrical decentralization of political and fiscal powers across


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