Many issues have been raised in the referendum campaign. The UK measurement muddle has not been one of them. Ronnie Cohen comments on the campaign so far.
In March, shortly after the date had been announced for the referendum to decide whether the UK should continue its membership of the European Union (EU), Metric Views posted an article about the measurement issues affecting the choice faced by UK voters:
Postal voting has now begun in the referendum. Polls close at 22:00 on Thursday 23 June.
Ronnie Cohen has identified the following issues that have been debated by the Remain and Leave sides as they compete for our attention:
- economy (e.g. jobs, investment, inflation/prices, standard of living, economic growth)
- immigration (e.g. free movement within the EU)
- cost of EU membership contributions (e.g. gross EU contributions, net EU contributions, British rebate, EU spending in the UK)
- sovereignty (e.g. law-making powers, how the UK is governed)
- workers’ rights (e.g. working conditions, pay rates)
- NHS funding (related to cost of EU membership contributions and how much would be available to fund the NHS if the UK left the EU)
- Turkish accession to the EU (related to security and immigration)
- EU regulations
- education and research funding from the EU
- farming and fishing (e.g. Common Agricultural Policy, EU fishing policies)
- energy and the environment
- global role and defence (e.g. the UK’s influence and place in the world)
- trade negotiations (Should the UK be able to make its own trade deals or let the EU negotiate trade deals on behalf of the UK?)
- policing and security (e.g. cross-border policing, security collaboration, border controls, European Arrest Warrant)
- travel and living abroad (e.g. travel for leisure or work, living in other EU countries)
In the EU referendum, the voters will be asked, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”. They have the following two choices in response to this question:
- Remain a member of the European Union
- Leave the European Union
Voters can put a cross into only one box next to their choice. If they don’t, their vote may not be counted. The referendum question was set by The Electoral Commission, and is intended to be simple, fair and objective.
Among all the topics in the recent debate on the UK’s membership of the EU, neither metrication nor any issue about measurement units seems to have been raised. Ronnie reports that he has searched on line for issues related to measurement matters in the EU referendum debate but has found none. Although some might suggest “metrication” should fall under the category of “EU regulations”, the UK’s adoption of the metric system did not begin with its accession of the European Common Market in 1973. The Royal Commission of 1862 had recommended adoption of the metric system, and an Act of 1898 made it legal for all purposes. Measurements were of course regulated long before then, and in England the first recorded law on this matter goes back to AD 965 and the reign of King Edgar. It said, “only one weight and one measure shall pass throughout the King’s dominions.” Clearly, the idea that a country needs only one measurement system has been around for quite a while.
So, metrication is a non-issue for the vast majority of voters. The public appears to be largely indifferent. Yet the muddle has not gone away, there is general use of both imperial and metric units in many areas of life, and there is widespread public acceptance of this very British mess. Muddle has become normal. But muddle is not normal in the rest of Europe, or indeed in the rest of the world. The UK, and perhaps also the US, is alone in the industrialised world in accepting the handicap this brings.
But voters, politicians and the media may be right to ignore the measurement issue in the referendum campaign. After all, whatever the outcome, it will remain in the UK’s interest to use the global measurement system, which has now now been adopted by 98% of the world’s countries.