Devolve Weights and Measures – says pro-metric group

Weights and Measures and related matters (such as road signs) should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament – according to the UK Metric Association.

In a submission to the Smith Commission (on further devolution to Scotland), the UK Metric Association (UKMA) has argued “that Weights and Measures and related matters (such as road traffic signs), provided that they comply with European Directive 80/181/EEC (as amended), do not need to be dealt with at the UK level and should therefore be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.”

The submission notes that “Weights and measures (including units of measurement and price marking) and road traffic signs are subject to EU Directive 80/181/EEC but are currently dealt with at either the UK or the GB level, with no facility for Scotland to adopt a different approach.  The UK approach (of permitting two incompatible measurement systems to co-exist) is unique in the world and has resulted in an incoherent measurement muddle.  The UK has no plans to resolve this issue.  Devolving the relevant powers to the Scottish Parliament (while still compliant with the EU Directive) would enable Scotland to progress at its own speed unhindered by the rest of the UK.”

Devolution would not of itself mean that Weights and Measures laws would immediately change in Scotland: that would depend on whether and how soon the Scottish Parliament decided to use its new power.  However, it would enable Scotland to “standardise on a single system of weights and measures (SI – the metric system) without all the disadvantages of trying to cope with two incompatible systems as in the rest of the UK.  This would particularly benefit schoolchildren, who would not need to learn two systems, but would also serve to reduce or eliminate the incomprehension, misunderstandings, conversion errors and additional costs that result from the UK’s “two systems” approach to weights and measures.  Standardisation on a single system could also have financial benefits for Scotland.”

UKMA’s submission, which can be read at this link, was in response to an invitation from the Smith Commission with a closing date of 31 October.  The Commission, which has representatives from all the main political parties in Scotland, is required to produce, by 30 November 2014, Heads of Agreement with recommendations for further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. This should result in draft clauses being published in January so that legislation can be ready before the General Election in May.

12 thoughts on “Devolve Weights and Measures – says pro-metric group”

  1. Very clever suggestion! It would leave us muddle-measured English, with our possible requirement to teach two systems in our schools, even further behind. The Welsh would probably follow suit, making the multi-lingual signs a bit simpler.


  2. Indeed, multi-lingual signs in Wales would be simpler if they had a single system of units. It would bring the combinations of signed words for units down from four to two. However for Wales to follow suit, we’d need more than a decision by the Welsh Assembly.

    Road signs in Wales are currently controlled by the UK government, not the Welsh Assembly. Either the UK government would have to permit single units on Welsh signs (which doesn’t seem likely) or it would have to devolve the relevant powers to the Welsh Assembly (which does seem likely). Politicians in the UK parliament and the devolved administrations are debating the wider effects of Scottish devolution and more devolution for Wales is one of the topics.


  3. I find it bizarre that someone who would support dual language signs would be opposed to dual measures.


  4. @Jonathan Smith:

    As the UKMA publication ‘Metric Signs Ahead’ has demonstrated so well, it is perfectly feasible to have road signs that use symbols and pictograms only, thus dispensing with languages altogether, and consequently making road signs comprehensible no matter what language is understood. The use of metric measurement units (and ONLY metric measurement units) is an inherent part of that doctrine.


  5. @Jonathan Smith

    If the road signs (in Wales) went metric only, then they would be international (no wording needed), thus no English wording, no Welsh wording. If we were to use metric signs in England then they would be international (well, we can hope they would!!), thus no wording, no English, no Polish, no Urdu, we could all understand them just as 97% of the rest of the world can understand their own road signs, and everyone elses (except UK) without all the stupid clutter that words can bring.


  6. I have seen international road signs. They are hardly intuitive at all. Some are very confusing, like Chinese symbols. So you are advocating for yet another language, pictographs on the road signs deprecating the spoken languages of the land.


  7. @ Jonathan Smith

    Across Europe – the part of the world we live in – international road signs are not all the same. The shapes and colours vary from one country to another. But in mainland Europe (and the Republic of Ireland) they all use the same (metric) units of measurement and are all immediately understandable even if you do not speak the language of the country you happen to be driving in. British holidaymakers and commercial drivers benefit enormously from this standardisation of units as they can easily understand distances, speeds and height and width restrictions if they have learnt metric at school. The same cannot be said for drivers in the United Kingdom who are not only faced with uncommon imperial units but also with road signs that differ in content depending on where in the UK you happen to be. Since metric has been taught in British schools for over forty years now it would make eminent sense to show metric units of measurment as the default on road signs. It would be a win-win for British drivers and for foreign drivers too. Many word-based British signs are relics from the days of horses and carts. The world has changed enormously in the last few decades and our road signs need to catch up.


  8. @Jonathan Smith
    It is good that you have seen international road signs, so have many of us, quite a few people in the world have in fact.

    Once again I bring up the point, why do you consider the people of this land, to be so thick and stupid, as opposed to the rest of the world, that we cannot cope with such a system?

    Anyone that passes a driving test will, by that process already know the road signs.

    That brings us to the other point in UK, we teach one thing then practice something different. That is stupid, real stupid.


  9. It appears that point is being missed. Written information, in whatever form, takes an individual more time to process than if it were imparted pictorially. It’s akin to the time taken to read a digital watch as opposed to an analogue one. So, for someone driving a vehicle there is clearly a safety advantage to be had, however small, from the adoption of predominantly pictorial road signage.


  10. @Jonathan Smith
    The pictograms used on Chinese road signs are the same as those used in the UK.
    Road signs, and the pictograms used on them, were agreed internationally and standardised in the 1960s.


  11. @Jonathan Smith

    I have just returned from an extensive trip throughout S E Asia. In the four countries I spent time in (Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand), all the road signs were pictograms (and of course all metric). While some signs were different from those seen in the UK, without exception I had no difficulty in understanding what the signs meant.


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