46th Congress of the European Regional Science Association: "Enlargement, Southern Europe and the Mediterranean", August 30th - September 3rd, 2006, Volos, Greece
In recent decades, many countries around the world have undergone governmental decentralizations, which transferred substantial powers and resources from the federal or central governmental arena to the regional level. This paper aims to add to the current literatures on political, policy, and fiscal decentralization by exploring how the public opinion, political party preferences, and pre-existing institutional structures influence the timing of policy change and the type of decentralization that occurs. To do so, it will draw upon the veto player theory put forward by Tsebelis (2002). The advantage of this theory, in relation to other potential theoretical frameworks, is that it provides us with a unified perspective on the potential for policy change, thereby allowing for comparison across a variety of political systems. In very general terms, it argues that, ceteris paribus, political stability increases with the number of veto players, the incongruence between the veto players' preferences and the internal cohesion of each of the veto players. Although relevant to identifying the potential for overall change, these statements alone can not adequately inform us about the timing of policy change and its direction. It will be argued that both the timing of a move towards decentralization and the type of decentralized system that emerges are dependant on the preferences of the relevant veto players, the position of the status quo, and the identity of the agenda setters. In other words, if we want to explain why decentralization occurred in a certain way at a particular time, we need to identify the relevant veto players, gain insight into how they from preferences, and develop an understanding of the influence of the location of the status quo and the rules of the decision-making process on the way these preferences are translated into policy outcomes. Using the 1997 devolution reforms in the United Kingdom as an illustrative case study, this paper will show how such an approach offers a new and refreshing view on the factors that influence the type of decentralization that occurs in a system.