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A unitary system is one of the three most common structures of a state. The other two are confederation and federation. Hence, it is a form of government that defines how power is structured. In other words, the relationship between certain levels of government.

Possible synonyms for unitary can be “uncut” or “undivided.” Hence, the idea of the system is apparent. Unlike a federation or confederation, it consists of only one state. In summary, it is a contrast to the other two systems.

The central government has a dominant position. That does not mean that there are no autonomous zones. Thus, the state can still be relatively decentralized. However, it has greater control over these zones. Besides, they often do not have the same powers. For example, Scotland and Wales are both parts of the United Kingdom. Yet, Scotland has more authority than Wales.

unitary scheme


The central government has full authority over both domestic and foreign issues. Hence, it sets all taxes, controls the army, diplomacy, and so on. However, it still delegates some of its powers to smaller units. The main reason is effectivity. Regarding management, it is helpful for them to do so. Either way, it still has authority over the smaller units. 

These smaller units – local government, can lay some rules in their area. They manage the towns or counties. For example, they control the roads in the area. They set speed limits and are responsible for the repairs.

The unitary system can sometimes be stiff. A change is harder to achieve. On the other hand, the structure is more economical. That is thanks to how small it can be in comparison to a federal government.

Today, it is the most common system. A total of 166 states use are unitary. Among these are the UK, China, Israel, Italy, France, and more.