What Is a Devolution Revolution?

A devolution revolution is a major transfer of power from a central government to a subordinate unit of government. Devolution alleviates some of the inefficiencies present in centralized governments that govern a large geographic region. The period from the 1970s to the 1990s saw a major devolution revolution throughout the western world.

Devolution occurs when a national government passes statutes that transfer some of its authority to lower levels of government. This takes place in both unitary and federal systems. The difference is that a unitary government can take back the delegated powers at any time, whereas a federal government cannot, because the states enjoy co-sovereignty with the national government..

A devolution revolution involves major transfers of power. The 1970s was the beginning of a devolution revolution across Europe and the United States. Prior to this time, central governments had been inclined to amass power, especially in response to World War II and the Cold War. That began to change in the '70s when Scotland and Wales began calling for greater political independence. Their wishes were realized in 1999, when the British Parliament ceded powers to the Welsh Assembly and created a Scottish Parliament.

France had the most centralized government in Europe. Local authorities even had to receive authorization from the national government to name streets. Throughout the 1980s, the national government significantly transferred power to the three sublevels of government.

The 1980s was also a time of devolution in the United States. During this decade the federal government transferred administration authority over many welfare programs to state governments.