EVERYTHING is relative. Sometimes, you have to visit other places to realise how splendid is your own town, village or city.

I’m not talking about abroad but about Scotland and the Other Bits of the UK. Most readers will have encountered places here that are visions of hell, particularly those towns where the one horse has been prescribed sedatives.

So, when I talk about Edinburgh, a city I’ve escaped only twice this year (once to Skye and once to Haddington, half-an-hour away), you’ll understand that familiarity may be breeding contempt, and that effective captivity may have led me to forget how terrible other places are.

Loading article content

I witter thus in the wake of a survey of the UK’s metropolitan areas that rated Edinburgh the best Scottish city in which to live. As there were only three Scottish cities in the main part of the survey (the capital plus Glasgow and Aberdeen; Inverness, Stirling, Dundee and Perth were considered separately) it’s not much of a boast. Coming fourth in the UK – behind Oxford, Reading and Southampton – is arguably more impressive, particularly with London showing as the poor man’s capital in 19th place.

Most of us chortle when we see these “best place to live” surveys, particularly where they put unlikely rural areas or islands top, a result of local patriotism from communities where every resident is a press officer. Self-criticism is less likely the further you get from the cities, and self-justification rife. But it turns out that this survey, by think-tank Demos for big long stupid name accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers, was also based on the views of the public. For Edinburgh to score so well, therefore, strikes me as unseemly.

What has happened to our sophisticated cynicism and ability to laugh at ourselves?Certainly, many residents must have laughed when relative ease of finding a job was implied among the criteria.

Jobs now are mad things. It felt nostalgic the other day to see the picture from the Herald archives of the massed ranks of shipyard workers at a meeting. Now it’s all individuated misery in the gig economy, unless you belong to the capital’s financial and legal privileged class, who also helped its high ranking by skewing income in its favour.

Other factors in which Edinburgh scored well included work-life balance and skill-set, while it scored only “around average” for health, new businesses, home affordability, level of home ownership, and local environment.

I’d have thought it would have scored above average on local environment and well below average on home affordability. Again, it depends who you ask. And they must have asked the rich, by the sounds of it.

The average price of a house in Edinburgh is now £246,611, fully a hundred grand more than the Scottish national average. The rates are also hellish, and I cannot fathom how they get away with prising such large sums from my moth-eaten purse every month in return for having my bins emptied and a few lights in the street. I don’t use anything else and would rise up in revolt, but no one else seems interested and so I pack away my John Lewis pitchfork and burning brand set for another day.

As for local environment, Edinburgh is replete with beautiful green spaces and, while its man-made green walkways have all been ruined by cyclists, even these malevolent narcissists cannot spoil places like Arthur’s Seat and, say, Blackford or Corstorphine Hill. I’m unfamiliar with Reading and Southampton, but they must have some spectacularly good greenery to top these.

Edinburgh also has some magnificent architecture, as indeed do Glasgow and Aberdeen. It also has some ghastly architecture, but has at last knocked down the brutalist St James Centre, alas with the effect of closing Leith Street to traffic and spreading mayhem to surrounding areas for miles around.

Edinburgh scored low in the survey for transport, and that was hardly surprising. It’s a terrible place in which to travel, and any resident will tell you how they had to abandon attendance at events because the traffic was just too hellish. Beyond all that, my criterion for judging cities would be this: vibe. And Edinburgh would come bottom based on that. Most of us visiting Glasgow immediately feel ourselves relaxing and breathing out. I don’t know why that is. It just is. It’s vibe.

But let’s not forget that there are many Edinburghs, from the doily-fringed avenues of Alexander McCall Smith to the methadone-soaked streets of Irvine Welsh, from the cold, grey formality of the New Town to the cosy, green suburbs of Craiglockhart and Colinton.

In autumn, the city is at its best, particularly amid the solid stone villas of sea-lapped Trinity and the unaffordable Grange. Is Edinburgh better than Glasgow and Aberdeen? Ah hae ma doots. But at least it’s better than London.