From identity to the economy: analysing the evolution of the decentralisation discourse
Few global phenomena have been as pervasive over the lifetime of Government and Policy as the drive towards decentralisation. The number of countries transferring authority and resources to subnational tiers of government has multiplied over the last twenty-five years. Yet the motives behind this trend remain relatively unknown. We explore these motives by analysing changes in the decentralisation discourse across a number of countries. We find that, while arguments about democracy and good governance have been at the heart of the reasoning for decentralisation, identity has progressively been relegated in favour of the economy and the promise of an economic dividend as the other main motivating factor. However, this shift from identity to the economy is highly contingent on who is driving the process. Despite noticeable shifts towards economic arguments in the discourse of nationalist and secessionist movements, identity remains strong in bottom-up discourses. In contrast, it has almost disappeared—if it ever existed—when the process of decentralisation is undertaken by the state or is encouraged by international organisations.