Don’t panic buy, said Boris Johnson. No question of the lights going out, said Kwasi Kwarteng. No ‘winter of discontent’ ahead, said Small Business Minister Paul Scully. And lo, the prospect of a grim winter with power, food and CO2 shortages was conjured up immediately.

But let’s be clear. Even though broadcasters seem too nervous to raise the B-word in interviews with bullish Tories, this is not just a crisis of Brexit, Covid or lorry driver shortages. It’s also a crisis of privatisation as the energy market proves itself entirely dysfunctional.

Why won’t opposition parties say it in words of one syllable? The British government should use this crisis to ‘do an East Coast Rail’ and take all the utilities privatised during the Thatcher era back into public ownership.

It’s the ideal time to start that debate, since the pandemic has forced Boris Johnson to boldly go where no Conservative Government has gone before ¬- propping up all sorts of privately-owned former utilities with cash hand-outs, yet getting no element of state control in return.

That is a massive missed opportunity, because behind the scenes, the disastrous privatisations of the Thatcher era are all coming unstuck. Sluggish, uncompetitive and unaccountable, the privatised or semi-privatised English NHS, the English prison service, English Water, Royal Mail, social care, gas, electricity, bus and rail services are all struggling with the extra pressures of Brexit, the climate crisis and Covid.

This unholy trinity offers the perfect opportunity for a purposeful Prime Minister to really “take back control” and retreat from the whole sorry privatised mess. But instead, Johnson has pumped in emergency cash without securing any long-term strategic benefits, or valiantly looked the other way.

Take Rail. £1billion was spent keeping under-used train companies afloat during the pandemic, but no stake in these failing businesses was taken by the British Government. And that was desperately needed, because our privatised rail “network” is indisputably the most fragmented, overcrowded, inefficient and most expensive in Europe and the success of East Coast Rail provides hard evidence that railways can work well once removed from Thatcher’s privatised tendering lottery.

Take water. No major economy in the world, including the US, has such a vital national resource in private hands. None that is except England, where nine regional private companies supply water. So, there’s no competition between them, their prices are higher than publicly owned Scottish Water and their track record in polluting rivers is appalling. In July Southern Water was fined a record £90 million for dumping billions of litres of raw sewage off the Kent and Hampshire coasts. Meanwhile staffing and budgets at the Environment Agency watchdog have been cut.

How is this a better track record than the old water boards?

Indeed, how is a plethora of competing private companies cherry-picking the most popular routes better than the publicly owned services still provided by Lothian Buses (one of just nine municipal bus companies left in Britain) or the publicly owned Glasgow Underground?

How is the Royal Mail - a public asset for 500 years - working better with £1 billion paid out to shareholders since privatisation? Is it a coincidence more than 12,000 Royal Mail jobs have been lost and many mail centres and delivery offices closed?

Take prisons. Britain houses more prisoners in private jails than any country bar Australia - and at twice the rate of the United States. The private sector has an even bigger footprint in immigration removal centres and prisoner transport - mostly delivered by the Big Three - Sodexo, Serco and G4S. Scotland’s two private jails will be taken back into public ownership when their contracts expire at a cost of £1.4billion. But England is currently building new private jails. How is that right?

Take health. The Health Service in England has had to tender all contracts since legislation in 2012. Since then, an estimated £96billion of taxpayer cash has been paid out to private healthcare firms. And when Covid struck, the supply of PPE and test and trace followed the disastrous contracting-out route instead of being managed in-house by government. It’s also worth remembering that 80 per cent of care homes - now privately owned - were council-owned pre-Thatcher.

And of course, there’s energy. The supply, generation and distribution of electricity and gas was privatised in the 80s with the promise of lower prices and greater investment. Neither promise has been kept, but now the Big Six suppliers are getting state cash for taking customers from firms bankrupted during the current gas price hike - with no strings attached.

That’s a serious missed opportunity, because Britain cannot hope to decarbonise heating and invest in new green infrastructure without the direction, planning and impetus that comes from state ownership - like Germany, the US, Sweden, Norway and Italy. Could the private sector offer real green energy leadership? The proof of the pudding is the last privatised 30 years.

Yet as the need for public ownership of key services grows, Labour steps back. In a letter to Keir Starmer, the pressure group We Own It, asked why his recent vision statement made no mention of public ownership. They calculate the British taxpayer wastes an annual £13 billion on privatised services. That's enough to reduce water leakage levels by a third, finance 222 new offshore wind turbines, 100 miles of new railway track, 1,356 new electric buses, 342 new Crown Post Offices, full fibre broadband for 6 million households, 72,000 more nurses and 20,000 more doctors.

These are not wafty “side of the bus” pledges but the reward for ditching pointless competition, shareholder dividends, crony contracts and back-handed public subsidies.

According to We Own It director Cat Hobbs, “We've had the privatisation experiment - it didn’t work. Covid was a moment to ‘take back control’ - but the British Government hasn't used it.”

And Keir Starmer’s car crash performance on the Sunday Marr programme confirms Labour would be no different even though roughly two-thirds of UK voters support public ownership, with much greater support amongst Scots.

So, here’s the dilemma for progressive Scots. What future except independence lets us escape the privatised template that’s breaking Britain?

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Herald.