Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Turning point

SQA's concerns about the implications for archives of EU Directive 80/181 have been expressed in these pages several times.

The Directive required the ending of dual Metric/Imperial usage or so-called Supplemental Indications with effect from 1 January 2010 with grave consequences for British literary and archival heritage. SQA was not alone in interpreting the Directive as being applicable to all situations and Christopher Booker echoed our concerns in his Sunday Telegraph features. Booker has stated "it would become a criminal offence to make any written mention of the hated non-metric measures in sales literature, on packaging or anywhere else" (article in full)

Most importantly, archivists were faced with the prospect of having to compile descriptive lists, describe documents and provide exhibition interpretation in metric only, quite anachronistically and more important than that, unhelpfully to a public almost entirely conversant with only Imperial units.

However, the European Commission has stated its intention to allow dual measurements and supplementary indications indefinitely, in keeping with similar arrangements for British road signs and pints.

This startling victory for common sense, British heritage and archival description and interpretation is almost the single-handed achievement of John Gardner, Director of the British Weights and Measures Association who has orchestrated a strong and united response from British and European industry and even the UK government itself, to an EU consultation exercise on changes to weights and measures directives.

This change of mind is apparently the result of industry's clamour against hugely expensive conversion and an unnecessary one at that, driven by the need to trade without penalty with the USA, the world's biggest market place. The USA is steadfastly Imperial and any limited metrication there is being reversed, as exemplified by the Californian State Railways.

Neil Herron, inveterate Metric Martyr

Neil Herron, mastermind of John Prescott's defeat in the North Eastern Euro Region's referendum in connection with the proposed pilot elected regional assembly there and Metric Martyr, has also played an important part. Claims by a Conservative MEP to have influenced the outcome can be discounted as merely an attempt to steal votes from the UK Independence Party.

We close by echoing Christopher Booker's concerns about the general context in which these developments have taken place. The UK remains in the EU and is fully beholden to the European Commission and its directives and the stranglehold of the various EU treaties. There has been no change to our continuing loss of sovereignty and no powers yet surrendured to the EU have been returned. The episode represents a turning point rather than a reversal. However, archivists can continue to use Imperial units in their work.

It now only remains to take the anti-metric campaign to our European neighbours to ensure their road signs and goods labelling is dual for the convenience of British and American visitors. Fair's fair.

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