Unlock Democracy’s ‘Autonomy’ project

Unlock Democracy have just publicly launched their ‘Autonomy’ website.  I acted as academic consultant to this project, which aims to show the extent to which ‘second-level’ elected authorities in a variety of countries including the UK, the US, Germany, Australia and Switzerland have meaningful autonomy.  You can find it here.

The website is aimed mainly at school pupils and college students studying subjects like KS3 or GCSE Citizenship, or Politics for ‘A’ Level or Highers, though we hope it will be interesting to a wider public too.  It’s essentially comparative, and tries to show how sub-state level government works and the powers it has in a range of countries.  We’ve treated ‘second level’ elected authorities as meaning the elected level immediately below the state – so it covers Swiss Cantons, Spanish Autonomous Communities and Danish Counties, as well as a rather bizarre variety of governments in the UK.   (For the UK, we have three highly autonomous small Crown dependencies; devolved legislative government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; the Mayor and Assembly in London, and unitary or county councils of various sorts across the rest of England.)  Slightly anomalously, but as a useful comparison, we’ve also included the European Union as if it were a state, with the member states treated as the second level.

We’ve used three measures to assess autonomy: safeguards of their constitutional powers, the range of functions they have, and the financial powers they have to raise their own spending.

This is meant to be an application of scholarship rather than a scholarly exercise in its own right.  A comprehensive academic exercise would have looked at a wider range of systems, or used other, more complex measures of autonomy, for example.  Regional and Federal Studies published a very detailed and much more rigorous attempt to measure ‘regional authority’ by Gary Marks, Liesbet Hooghe and Arjan Schakel in a special double issue in 2008, which is available here (the reference is ‘Regional Authority in 42 Countries, 1950–2006: A Measure and Five Hypotheses’ Regional and Federal Studies vol. 18 nos. 2&3, 2008).  What the Autonomy website is intended to do is to engage in an accessible way with a wider public, and stimulate thinking and discussion about how centralised the UK still is in comparison to other countries.  I’ll be interested to learn if readers of this blog think it succeeds in doing so.

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Filed under Comparisons from abroad, Publications and projects

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