WHOEVER is responsible for the energy crisis, it is most certainly not the widow on the upper floor of a Dundee multi.

Yet she will pay the price.

Whoever is responsible for the energy crisis, it is most certainly not the young couple in their Shettleston starter home.

Yet they will pay the price.

We are accustomed to dealing in relative terms. X is worse than Y but better than Z. Deal with it.

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I understand why Boris Johnson adapted that relativist technique on a visit to Kyiv.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been blamed for the soaring cost of gas. Mr Johnson noted that, while we were facing higher bills, the people of Ukraine were “paying in their blood.”

A cogent point. However, relativism will not work here. We are dealing with cataclysmic energy prices. They are, literally, intolerable.

This is an absolute crisis, not a relative problem. It will require direct and substantial state intervention.

The Chancellor’s immediate response was rather limp. He was, he said, working “flat out” on a response – which would allow Mr Johnson’s successor to “hit the ground running.”

And so we wait for the hiatus at the top of UK governance to end, in a fortnight.

Leaving us with two broad questions. What to do right now to alleviate suffering. And how to structure our economy for the future.

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With regard to the immediate crisis, there are two basic options. We curb the price rises or we compensate consumers.

Scottish Power’s chief executive Keith Anderson is to be commended for presenting a plan: freeze energy bills for two years and cover the £100bn cost over a prolonged period.

That won support at an energy summit convened by the First Minister. UK Ministers are still in policy limbo but the signs are that they are less than keen.

What might be the objections? Firstly, that such a scheme might not directly target aid to the poorest. It might, by its universality, help the peer in a mansion as well as the pensioner in a tenement.

Secondly, some argue that we should not artificially shield ourselves from the cost of energy; that a price shock might force us to shift more rapidly to renewables.

Still, Ms Sturgeon was entirely right to note, after her summit, that consumers cannot be expected to bear the burden alone.

It should also be noted that it will be vital to assist businesses too. They are facing rising costs but are not covered by the price cap mechanism.

But, reverting to households, could they be assisted through the tax and benefits systems?

Tax can be a blunt instrument. For example, Liz Truss has made tax cuts the main plank of her Tory leadership pitch. Rishi Sunak counters that such reductions are of little benefit if you do not pay tax in the first place.

However, it might be possible to remove VAT from fuel charges or, as Ms Truss has also suggested, to lift the Green levy from energy bills.

If not tax, how about benefits? Snags here are urgency and efficiency.

Folk do not have months, even weeks, to wait while they are assessed again. The bills are landing now.

Further, the history of the benefits system scarcely encourages one to think that the scale of the assistance required here will be matched by effective distribution.

Already there are question marks over who has received the limited UK support thus far – and who has not.

However, action there must be. A mixed bag seems likely: an effort to peg bills, including for business, allied to an endeavour to support households in the greatest need.

And, lest we forget, that need is very substantial indeed.

What then about future economic strategy? The current crisis has caused us, here in Scotland, to revisit fundamental controversies which have underpinned discourse for decades.

Independence, of course. This week’s GERS figures provoked relatively little fuss. Somehow, the confirmation that Scotland’s deficit outpaces the UK failed to shift war, pestilence and strikes from the news agenda.

Yet, still, supporters of the Union say GERS proves the strength of UK shoulders. Supporters of independence say Scotland’s growth rate would thrive.

Let us set that aside for now and consider other issues.

Consider, firstly, energy. We are rightly intent on a drive towards net zero, and hence towards renewable energy, including the opening this week of the huge Seagreen windfarm some 17 miles off the Angus coast.

But what to do with North Sea oil and gas? Environmentalists, including Scottish Greens, say: leave it under the sea, block any new development.

Is it my imagination or do SNP Ministers look faintly uncomfortable when advancing such arguments?

As things stand, this is a call for UK Ministers who are likely to decide that North Sea oil and gas should play a continuing role in the transition to renewables.

What about state ownership of energy firms. Nicola Sturgeon hinted it might be time to reconsider this. However, her previous plan for a public Scottish energy company was shelved.

This felt to me more like political positioning.

Longer term, we also need to discuss the balance of tax and spending. Scotland has already diverged from the UK model on tax.

Should we go further – or would, for example, higher taxation on higher earners run counter to the Scottish Government’s declared aim of fostering an entrepreneurial spirit?

And expenditure? Where does fairness truly lie? With universal provision? Or targeted help?

What is most efficient? Universality? Or selective support?

Remember that this too will pass. Somehow, the war in Ukraine will end.

At some point, the rise in energy prices will stall or go into reverse. Inflation should begin to fall, although it has yet to reach its peak.

It is, however, entirely possible that we will face sustained economic problems, perhaps dating back to the banking crisis. We have yet to recover stability.

There may therefore be more fundamental questions still to address.

Let us hope that Scotland is ready to contribute to that broader discourse. Let us hope that we are ready to consider innovative solutions.

For now, though, we have a catastrophe to avert.