When did you last see a one-horse open sleigh?

It has occurred to me, during the past week of wall-to-wall Christmas songs on the radio, that almost every single song features sleighbells. Even the traffic reports have their backing track jingling gently.

Have you ever hitched a ride in a sleigh - with or without Santa?
Have you ever hitched a ride in a sleigh - with or without Santa?

Now, I am not a betting man, but even I am willing to bet that the chances of anyone in Scotland over the past 30 or 40 years ever riding in a sleigh, one horse or two, are very long odds. Indeed, even the existence of a sleigh in Scotland must be extremely unlikely.

The main reason for this lack is the general absence of snow lasting more than a few days in most of Scotland, and obviously, there is normally even less snow in England, particularly the south.

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Consequently, all these traditional Christmas messages of snowballs, sleighbells, snowmen and lamplit outdoor carol singing come from a completely different tradition, originally central European, and then North American.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Christmas enormously, but it is a bit odd that nearly all our Christmas traditions are foreign. It must be even more confusing for our children, for whom Christmas is such a magical time, since they never get to experience any of the things they associate with this time of year.

The worldwide Christmas industry is similarly all-powerful. I have experienced December in Hong Kong and Japan, which is surreal, and what it must be like in Southern Hemisphere countries is mind-boggling.

Perhaps we should all invest in some sort of AI holodeck, like in Star Trek, where we can pretend to indulge in all these Christmas traditions, despite the rain and wind outside.

Merry Christmas everybody! Jingle! Jingle!

Brian Bannatyne-Scott, Edinburgh

‘Not proven’ cases

It is always difficult for those of us who are not legal professionals to comment with any authority about the rights and wrongs of Scotland's 'not proven' verdict. The Holyrood government clearly felt that the controversy warranted a manifesto commitment to review the situation, and to launch a consultation (Scotsman, 14 December).

At the heart of proposals for change seems to be the disquiet about the verdict's use in attempted rape cases, and the distress felt by people who have been assaulted. It has even been suggested that the verdict contributes to the subjugation mainly of women, and leads to public complacency about domestic abuse and harassment in a number of social situations.

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I think a central point to make here is the primacy of the individual's right to justice and the presumption of innocence. Surely a major change to the way courts and juries handle sensitive situations like alleged rape cannot be based on a desire to get rates of conviction up. There may be a case for reviewing standards of proof, rights to privacy, corroboration, in the normal course of events. But the integrity of the system must be upheld.

If there is a case for change, it should be based on upholding individual rights and strong legal principles, not a desire to increase guilty verdicts to assuage one section of public opinion.

Bob Taylor, Glenrothes, Fife

A load of bull

I would like to extend warmest congratulations to Formula One’s newest World Champion, the Abu Dhabi race director Michael Masi.

He so clearly won Sunday’s race for Red Bull, he must have been puzzled not to have been presented with the Trophy. Instead it went to Max Verstappen who equally clearly had been outraced and outdriven by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, until his intervention.

However, given the billion dollar nature of Formula One, we can be confident that the authorities will quickly sort out this mistake?

Kit Fraser

Dunbar, East Lothian

Blood donors

Until 2018, I was a regular blood donor, reaching 50 donations and a nice brooch presented by the Lord Provost.

I still had a good few years of donating three-four pints a year, until I hit a bureaucratic wall. This is because I have regular acupuncture, delivered by a top acupuncturist, who works in the private sector and trains those taking up acupuncture. Such people are not recognised by the Blood Transfusion Service. I tried without success to get the service to accept my highly qualified, regulated and long-experienced acupuncturist.

Regulating body the British Acupuncture Council confirmed that talks to overcome this ban had reached a stalemate. These Council standards are approved by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. What is the problem that can’t be solved?

So I reckon that the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service has needlessly lost 18-25 valuable pints of O negative blood from me. How many other willing donors have been similarly excluded?

Fiona Garwood, Edinburgh

Tax dilemma

The World Inequality Report does a soft shoe shuffle rather than admit that it’s impossible for any nation to have “big state” spending and a progressive tax system.

Much to the annoyance of our bien pensant, the US federal tax system is much more progressive than any European nation in the sense that the portion of income paid in tax rises as income rises. But it only collects 18 per cent of GDP this way and much more regressive state or local taxes are needed to raise this figure to 25 per cent.

European nations garner up to 45 per cent of GDP but the Laffer Curve (still a mystery to SNP finance ministers), means that they need to rely on highly regressive indirect taxes. If one nation plumps for income tax rates which hammer the rich and go easy on the poor, the wealthy simply slip over the nearest border. This option is not so easily available to Americans – moving to a frigid Canadian winter or to the narcotics battlefields of South America has clearly limited appeal.

It’s not only leftist governments which struggle with this conundrum. I found the Kirk’s General Assembly liked progressive taxes because it disliked inequality. But when the Kirk’s few “clerical” economists argued this left less money for state spending we were regarded as “difficult” and excluded from committees.

A smaller state is probably the better option but neither the Kirk nor the SNP like giving citizens choice, whether on assisted death or spending their own money.

Rev Dr John Cameron, St Andrews, Fife

Must try harder

Many years ago Morris Allen pioneered the art of delivering Scottish football to the nation's TVs. His pre-video film-based technology allowed STV's Scotsport to present game highlights that same evening, with the processed films rushed to Glasgow for the 10.30pm spot. The quality was exceptional, given its era.

Fast forward to Autumn 2021, and compared to the technically superb coverage of rugby by the BBC and ITV in previous years, we were subjected to a 1960s quality video, albeit in colour, that had fewer camera angles, lower video quality, and appalling commentary.

So... SRU: get your act together. Stop relying on a fly-by-night Amazon Prime internet video link to (fail to) showcase Scotland's best in an international presence. And shame on you for treating fans who can't get to Murrayfield so badly.

Iain Masterton, Kirknewton, West Lothian

State surveillance

Many crimes against humanity began with a humble census simply categorising people by race and/or religion. As the Jews discovered in the Netherlands, information collected in innocence by one government can easily be abused by the next. Their fate at the hands of the Nazis was compounded by a pre-existing population registration system.

That’s one reason I'm uncomfortable with the Scottish Government's Health & Wellbeing Census. A broad lifestyle data trawl across children in Scotland may have unforeseen consequences. I'm sure every effort will be made to protect the results but when financial firms struggle to secure their data sets from inside fraudsters, so too will government.

From the sample questions available it will be possible to compile a centralised list of all young homosexuals and drug users in Scotland. This is unwise and wide open to abuse when information leaks. The safest way to secure extremely sensitive data of this nature is to leave it uncollected.

The Scottish Government should be practising data-minimisation and anonymisation by default, to both protect citizens and instil confidence in the collection exercise. Instead, respondents can be identified for unconvincing reasons and some councils are rightly withdrawing participation.

This new census is a snooper’s charter on steroids, with the potential to put children at serious risk of exploitation. That's why I'm calling on East Lothian Council to withdraw its cooperation and kick back against intrusive state surveillance of Scottish kids.

Calum Miller, Independent Candidate, Preston, Seton & Gosford by-election, East Lothian

Pretentious, sa?

It is becoming increasingly concerning. Those elected to lead Scotland politically for a fixed time and presently in office have now reached absurd levels of pretension.

To talk of the First Minister ‘’addressing the nation’’ was certainly a fine example of being way over the top when it concerned a Covid update from the leader of a coalition in a devolved region of the UK.

I am aware that the First Minister seems to have as many taxpayer-supplied spin doctors and special advisers as Joe Biden, and they have to be kept employed, but this kind of stuff is preposterous.

When much has been forgotten in future years about this period in Scottish politics, pretension like this will epitomise the present era.

Alexander McKay, Edinburgh

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