BORIS Johnson may well have slunk away in a blaze of ugliness but he was just a symptom. The disease is something deeper. And it’s still very much here.

Seen one way, the problem is our political institutions.

The archaic and undemocratic first-past-the-post voting system, an over-centralised governance system, the unelected Lords (although it has to be acknowledged that they’re currently doing a far better job of holding government to account than the Commons), the populist abuse of sovereignty, the stuffy and outdated conventions and public school atmosphere - the whole lot of it.

It breeds a distrust which Johnson always fed off.

The National: Rebecca Pow backed the Partygate report saying Boris Johnson misled Parliament. Picture: PA

Seen another way, it’s about nationalisms and identities. Specifically, England has struggled to find its way in the modern world. We cling to our delusions of imperial grandeur, pretend that we’re so much more than "just English", and the devastating consequences are all around us.

English exceptionalism drove both Brexit and the government’s cavalier approach to the Covid pandemic. But we still struggle with it not being enough, in a way that nobody seems to struggle to be just Swedish or Japanese or Peruvian.

When we English do finally settle with our own identity, I suspect we’ll discover we’re much more progressive than we’re ever led to believe. Once the baggage of “British greatness” is shed, we can get on with being another northern European country.

An English parliament with proportional representation, perhaps based in York or Leeds, wouldn’t be filled with bigots from the English Defence League, and other fascists who currently exploit the lack of English institutions or representation. I suspect it would look more like the English football team – as diverse as the country itself and a real source of pride.

READ MORE: What can the Scottish independence movement learn from the late Tom Nairn?

Navigating our complex relationship with England, with our Englishness, is difficult. But understanding the toxic impact on our politics is absolutely vital, particularly for those of us who want to change it.

These, after all, are the things which combined to give us not just the disaster of Brexit, which is causing so much damage to all of our lives, but also the trends which politicians like Suella Braverman are trying to surf when they push racist rhetoric against migrants.

The distaste for politics bred by a Westminster-centric system helps the Government get away with attacking our democratic rights – from assaults on protest rights to demands for voter ID to attacks on trade unions. 

One thinker who helped us understand much of this was the Scottish philosopher Tom Nairn. His death in January this year, at the age of 90, was widely acknowledged in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond and Gordon Brown all tweeted fulsome eulogies about his significant influence on their own thinking. 

The National: Tom Nairn 1 SA : Scottish political thinker/writer Tom Nairn at his home in Livingston...Picture by Stewart Attwood.                   .All images © Stewart Attwood Photography 2016. All other rights are reserved. Use in any other context is

It barely registered among England’s leaders. Which is a shame. Because much of his analysis was about my homeland and its seemingly permanent state of political crisis. Perhaps that’s because few of England’s political elite are willing to accept they are “just” English, let alone contemplate the logic of his argument – that the break-up of Britain might just be good for all of us. 

On November 18, I’ll be coming to Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms to speak at a major conference celebrating Nairn’s thinking – called "The Break-up of Britain? Confronting the UK's Democratic Crisis". 

This won’t be a waffly history seminar, but a restless engagement with reality, with the ongoing forces driving support for Scottish and Welsh independence and Irish unity. And with the need for us English to catch up with some of that thinking.

I’m excited to discuss these questions with some of the UK and Ireland’s finest thinkers and activists, such as Fintan O’Toole – perhaps Ireland’s most significant public intellectual; Kojo Koram – the brilliant writer about Britain’s imperial hangover; Lesley Riddoch – whose books and video express Scotland’s wit, energy and potential; Anthony Barnett – who exposed the "lure of greatness" behind Brexit; Leanne Wood and Richard Wyn Jones from Wales, where constitutional issues are hotting up; and many more.

Put the date in your diaries and come and join us! 

And what of England’s next generation of leaders?

The men battling to be the next PM on behalf of the bigger parties plan to keep the old show on the road, supported by a vicious media. But unofficial discontent is growing – from climate activists to anti-monarchy demonstrators.

And Sunak’s recent assault on the right to protest is no coincidence.

Another political explosion is coming over the next decade. How we prepare for and shape it is now a crucial issue for democrats – from the Greens to the left and liberals, and perhaps even a few Conservative holdouts purged from the Tory party itself.

A critical part of this will be confronting our national questions in the plural.  

So join me – and hundreds of others – at the Assembly Rooms on November 18. And let’s talk about the Break-up of Britain.