ANSWER me this. Did you feel just a tiny bit sorry for Boris Johnson this week when he summoned up his best brave face and told fellow MPs he would demit office with his tousled head held high?

Did you sense that, around him, one or two political assassins were beginning to wrestle with what they had done, to question the wisdom of ousting this paragon? No, neither did I. Just thought I would ask.

Johnson’s departure as Prime Minister is solely due to his own failings. His hubris, his remoteness from probity, his occasional mendacity.

The contest to replace him is utterly surreal. For one thing, the early pace. Contenders launch their campaigns with vigour, only to vanish instantly from the scene as MPs cast their verdict. Mayflies live longer.

Read more by Brian Taylor: Indyref2 – is it now a question of when rather than if?

Then the discourse itself. A cacophony of bold futuristic promises, accompanied by the pitiful wail of an economy on the brink, a society beset by tension. “I am the one to lead”. Yes, but what about fuel costs? “I have the experience, the talent.” Not enough, it seems, to spot what Boris was up to. “I am the one Labour fears”. The economy? Ukraine? Anybody?

Surreal. In the Commons, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer questions Johnson. But the questions are really aimed at the PM’s successor; an oblique reference to tax avoidance by the super-rich.

Rishi Sunak knows that it is meant as a barb at his wife, who had to abandon her non-dom tax status after a row. The former Chancellor, who’s leading in this contest, says he should not be judged by his own bank account, but by his handling of the UK’s finances.

Mostly, though, Sir Keir is content to observe, silently chuckling as the Tory contenders undermine each other.

In another surreal aspect, the Tory candidates resort to private contumely and scorn, while simultaneously exhorting each other to remain dignified. They even compete in exculpating Johnson – or, more precisely, affording him some passing dignity.

Truly, we are Through the Looking Glass. Things are not as they seem. Former rivals from the Brexit turmoil join forces to win the approval of Tory MPs and members.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, backed Remain. Yet arch-Leavers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries stand solemnly in Downing Street and tell TV audiences that Ms Truss is the one to resist Sunak on tax hikes.

Remember that, for Mr Rees-Mogg and his ilk, Brexit was a litmus test. You were either sound or not. It defined their politics. Now there are older policy allegiances which transcend the purity of that previous division. What has happened? I believe that, in England, we are now largely in a post-Brexit phase of politics. I stress, in England.

The fact of leaving the EU has been thoroughly absorbed by the body politic. Opposition to Brexit is seen as past tense, utterly futile. It is like being against gravity. Brexit has happened, with the Treasury forecasts of economic decline still intact. But it is intrinsic to English political discourse.


Read more by Brian Taylor: Nothing new in Nicola Sturgeon’s independence plan? That's precisely the point...


Neither Labour nor, intriguingly, the Liberal Democrats offer any programme for reversing Brexit. Quite the contrary.

More to the point for this current contest, the Conservatives are no longer divided, solely and utterly, by Brexit. For one thing, that point about absorption. For another, the Tories have changed, the membership has changed.

The party of Ted Heath, the party which took us into the Common Market and later championed the Single Market (under Margaret Thatcher) has gone, replaced by a blend of English patriotism and populist poujadism. In England and, perhaps also, in Wales. In Northern Ireland, Brexit threatens peace as power-sharing crumbles. That topic has yet to arise much in this leadership contest. Too difficult. No votes.

In Scotland, of course, Brexit is also very much a live issue. Partly because a majority of people in Scotland voted to remain. But largely because Brexit is cited as a prime justification for holding a further ballot on independence.

It was so cited by Nicola Sturgeon this week as she set out the second tranche of her independence papers, this one on sovereignty and the proclaimed democratic deficit.

As an example, the paper argues that the continuation of the United Kingdom in its present form prevents Scotland from taking decisions anent another Union, that of the European Union.

There is a wider philosophical point, citing “a clear misalignment between the reality of Scotland as a nation and a Westminster system which claims the right to make decisions for Scotland whatever the views of the people who live here.”

To which Unionists respond that, in 2014, the people of Scotland chose, by ballot, to remain in that Union. They argue, variously, that now is not the time to revisit that choice.

The SNP seem caught in something of a conundrum with regard to the Tory contest. Ideologically, they know that they should adhere to the point in the new paper; that it is not the political colour of the UK administration which matters, but the fact of UK governance.

Yet they cannot resist the temptation to categorise the Tories as indulging in a “toxic race to the right”. The next Tory leader, avers Ian Blackford, “will make Genghis Khan look like a moderate.”

Come on, Mr Blackford, you can do better than such lame clichés. Indeed, he did, one phrase later, arguing that “Scotland cannot afford the cost of living with Westminster”. Neat.

And our Tory hopefuls? What have they to say on indyref2? Again, almost nothing. If pressed by pesky journalists from Scotland, they mutter “now is not the time”. One or two suggested a further decade must pass.

In truth, this is not the contest they want to fight. Even though Penny Mordaunt projects herself as eager to regain the SNP’s “yellow wall” of seats in Scotland. Without specifying how.

At the same time, she sets herself apart from her Boris-proximate rivals and stresses her credentials as a naval reservist. Bit Thatcher, bit Ruth Davidson.

It will be over relatively soon. The Tories will choose. Then the questions return. The economy, energy costs, Ukraine. And, yes, the future of Scotland.