The Herald today again reveals Scotland’s dirtiest and cleanest council areas. Is this fair to local authorities? Only, as we newspaper people like to say, up to a point.

We can report that all the sites visited in Orkney by inspectors from Keep Scotland Beautiful were acceptably clean. But the same could only be said for 83.9% of those in Inverclyde. Is this a reasonable comparison? Not really.  We are talking about very different places.

The data we are publishing does not measure how hard street-sweepers work in different parts of the country - or how good councils are. But they do reveal important underlying trends on where trash is getting in to our environment - and where the biggest effort is required from citizens and public servants on keeping the country clean. 

Inverclyde, for example, has some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country. It ranked higher than anywhere else in Scotland’s 2020 indices of deprivation. And studies from Keep Scotland Beautiful have long documented a link between litter and poverty. 

Read the full story and our data visualisations: Scotland's dirtiest towns and cities - revealed

Take 2022-23, the year we are looking at. Overall, 23% of sites audited within the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland recorded a significant issue with litter. That compares with 3% in the 20% least deprived. Opinion polling - by Diffley Associates for KSB - shows Scots in deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to see litter as a problem - and more likely to think it has got worse in the last year.

There is also a huge difference between urban areas like Inverclyde and most rural ones like Orkney. But there are also specific issues in the most densely populated areas of rural councils. Small towns and villages are not immune to rubbish in their public spaces. And that is the kind of data that our exercise of looking at council areas does not show up.

City centres - especially the main tourism and shopping drags of Glasgow and Edinburgh - generate the most public comments about litter. These are also the areas, the national shop windows, that councils try hardest to keep clean. Where we live is not always where we litter - or pay council tax.