Resistance to change

UKMA acknowledges that there is some entrenched resistance to the metric changeover, which has deterred governments from completing the process which they started. It is therefore important to gauge the strength of this opposition, which UKMA believes to be shallow, based on a lack of correct information and often politically motivated.

Although a number of surveys have been carried out of public opinion on the metric changeover, these have largely been commissioned by organisations which are trying to obstruct further progress. The results of such biased surveys must therefore be treated with caution. However, it is probably true that there is widespread reluctance by many British people to adopt the metric system for everyday use. The depth of this resistance has not been researched, but the reasons for it are likely to include the following:

  • People generally do not like change – especially when it means giving up the habits of a lifetime.
  • People do not like being told to change.
  • People particularly do not like being told to change if they think that the change has been imposed by foreigners.
  • The reasons for and benefits of the change have not been properly explained.
  • People do not like to change unless they have been prepared for change through a proper information programme.
  • Although most people are familiar with many metric units (e.g. a 60 W light bulb, a 1 kg bag of sugar or a 2 litre engine), they often do not realise that these are metric units and believe that the metric system must be complex and difficult to understand. In many cases this could be because they never learnt it at school (especially if they are over 45) or because they have had no opportunity to use it in the UK since leaving school.
  • Some people may feel embarrassed at using metric units in everyday life if they fear being conspicuous and inviting ridicule.

Public ignorance has been exploited by populist politicians and some tabloid newspapers to stir up resistance – for example, by portraying rebellious market traders as “martyrs”.

UKMA believes that this perfectly natural resistance to unexplained change could be quickly and easily overcome by a well organised and Government-sponsored programme of public education – just as happened with the decimalisation of the currency in 1970/71 – and that any temporary political unpopularity would very soon evaporate. Just as in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and many other countries, people would soon adjust and afterwards would wonder what the fuss was about.