THE death of the Queen is starting to take on some rather profound symbolism. Republicans and abolitionists like me may feel distinctly uncomfortable with the almost primal nature of the grief and loyalty that’s swept up so many citizens, yet it exists, that’s a truth. To deny that – or worse, sneer at it – wilfully misses the significance of what’s happening in this strange, confused land of ours.

I’ll reach for the word ‘atavistic’ to describe this grief and loyalty – not in a disparaging way, but in a way which tries to acknowledge that there’s something deep, something ancient occurring. There’s an anthropological way to look at what’s happening: that a huge tribe of people are united in the need to show their devotion to a dead leader.

Humans have been living out such rituals for 250,000 years. There’s a sense of modernity, of the cool detachment of the digital age, left far behind as more ancestral impulses take over. That this is confusing or troubling for those of an anti-monarchist frame of mind like me – who appear to be in the minority when it comes to opinion polling on the future of the royals – is neither here nor there. The discomfort or puzzlement of some, doesn’t negate the reality of an event.

In one sense, the Queen’s death marks a very clear line in British history. It’s an historic truth that centuries don’t just end with the click of a calendar; they linger a little. The 19th century didn’t stop on New Year’s Day 1900, but rather somewhere between 1914 and 1918 when the great empires destroyed each other.

The 20th century lived on beyond New Year’s Day 2000. Did September 11 kill the 20th century? Perhaps. More likely we’ll look back on something like the Capitol Riot as the demarcation line signalling the real beginning of the 21st century – the moment western democracy, the post-war consensus, started dying from within.

Does the Queen’s death mark the end of Britain’s 20th century experience? This nation has struggled with the terrible legacy of empire far too long – never freeing itself from the hangover of the past and the sins committed there. Might the Queen’s death mark the psychological shift away from that past which the nation needs if there’s to be any hope of renewal and growth? Could we become a truly post-imperial nation, learning to accept our place in the world?

It’s not that Charles will catalyse change, more that the Queen’s death may provide the subconscious impetus for change to happen. Certainly, the Queen’s death comes at a time when Britain feels greatly diminished – our economy failing, our politics both absurd and venal, the UK increasingly lonely on the world’s stage, and the bond of nationhood symbolised by the Union weaker than ever.

Yet strangely, just as the Union throbs to its lowest ebb, the Queen’s death seems to have reignited the few coals of unity still burning in Britain. Once again, cynics like me may put little store in the notion of national unity engendered by the Queen’s death – however, for now that mood really does seem to be prevailing: political cudgels have been laid down, there’s a sense of togetherness, a great and strange passivity in a country where the people are more often than not at each other’s throats. After Brexit’s chaos and the tremors of Scottish independence, the Queen’s death has brought a temporary lull to our political storms.

Herein lies the great dilemma for Liz Truss and Nicola Sturgeon. Whether they or their supporters like it or intend it, both women are essentially divisive figures. Division, clearly, is in the DNA of both English and Scottish nationalism. To say otherwise is denialism. Both use ‘othering’ as a political tool – whether that ‘other’ is Europe, the left and refugees, or Westminster and the Tories. They rule by dividing, not uniting.

The problem for Truss and Sturgeon is that the public will have welcomed this hiatus from hate, which politicians invariably cause. This sense of national unity – again I hasten to say for many, but certainly not all of us – provides comfort. The politician who breaks that quietude won’t be loved.

Truss has a hard time before her. She isn’t equipped to lead Britain. Her answers to the present economic crisis are weak and inadequate. When her failings become apparent, when her time runs out, she’ll turn to the only weapons at her disposal: ideology and culture war. She’ll retreat into free market fundamentalism, driving a wedge between rich and poor, and trigger petty battles over identity politics. Chief among her targets will be the SNP.

Despite her bowing before Britain’s new monarch, Sturgeon can keep silent on independence for only so long. When she does raise independence again, she’ll be pilloried for hypocrisy and fomenting division. The case for independence has never been weaker than today – indeed where is the case for independence? Yet Sturgeon will find herself having to make her arguments to a Scotland fearful of more economic risk and uneasy with the ugliness of divisive politics in the immediate aftermath of the Queen’s death.

I use the phrase ‘immediate aftermath’ deliberately as knowing this country as we all do, today’s unity will be ephemeral. It’ll pass. We’ll return to division and anger soon.

Indeed, some months from now there may be a case to be made by the Yes movement that the Queen’s death marked a symbolic moment when the Union itself gave out: that the Queen was the national glue which held the entire creaky edifice together. And so perhaps her passing may in the long-term provide convenient intellectual ballast to those arguing for progressive change. However, one doubts the current custodians of independence – the SNP – have the intellectual wherewithal to make such a sophisticated case.

The Queen is dead. Even republicans like me must acknowledge that in historical terms she was a great figure. The deaths of great figures – always, inevitably, symbolically – leave ripples of historic change in their wake. Whoever intuits that change – catches the tide of where that change leads – can shape tomorrow. It’s unlikely, however, that today’s political leaders are tomorrow’s change-makers.