THE 20th-century Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, when he was once asked about the effect of the 18th-century French Revolution, replied that it was “too early to tell”.

Nonetheless, as battles start to rage about the likely effect of the Queen’s death on Scotland, we are already deluged with instant opinions. Andrew Neil, for example, had a lengthy piece online within hours warning of terrible danger to the Union.

I am not so rash. I have never been an avid monarchist but I have also never thought that asserting strident republicanism would bring independence a day nearer. Despite her occasional forays into the constitutional debate, the truth is that most people saw the Queen as outwith and above the political fray, though in fact she made and dictated, in an absolutely unique way, the UK’s national narrative over 70 years, and with an influence that no politician could match.

That, however, is now in the past. Her death is, of course, a very personal loss for her family. The rigid formality of state ritual – a plodding costumed Victorian relic which sits awkwardly in a digital rolling news age – may help them to cope but they will, like every other family, eventually require time and space to grieve and must be given it.

READ MORE: King Charles delivers first speech after death of Queen Elizabeth

Yet the Queen was also a central figure in, and for, all of our lives and that is perhaps why many of us felt so strangely discomfited on Thursday afternoon and evening. I talked to a number of friends, my age and younger, who used the words “weird” and “sad” to describe their emotions.

Standing in my kitchen when the announcement came over the radio, I felt a personal sense of bereavement and a need for consolation, something I would never have predicted.

Elizabeth became queen 18 months before I was born in August 1953, which was two months after her coronation, for which my grandparents got their first television set.

The Second World War and the sacrifices it took to win it were living memories. Winston Churchill was still prime minister. Sugar, butter, cheese, margarine, cooking fat, bacon, meat and tea were still rationed and the Lord Chamberlain was still censoring plays, the last successful prosecution being as late as 1966.

It was absolutely a different age. The 1950s were also dominated by conservatism, but of a patrician and less strident sort than we know now. The so-called Swinging Sixties that followed swept away many cobwebs and in the following decade the UK joined the EU out of economic necessity as – to paraphrase the American secretary of state Dean Acheson – Britain lost an empire but struggled to find a role. In the 1970s, the long-maturing political demands of Scotland began to make themselves heard.

During all this, the Queen became, for almost all those who lived in the country and many further afield, the symbol of stability. She presided as head of state as governments of different political hues came and went, demonstrating that, for her, and by extension for the country she led, there were and had to be values – service, duty, hard work – that were unchanging yet also showing that she could adapt as the country was forced to do so.

People wanted the best of the new world that was coming into being, freer and less censorious, but they also wanted to be re-assured that their own prospects and perspectives did not have to change for the worse.

Remarkably, the Queen was able to do that. Somehow her constancy encouraged a shared belief that there was, and always had been (though that was untrue) something still, solid and basically good at the centre of the country in which we all lived, and that any and every change could be managed within that context.

That was eventually the restrictive basis on which demands for devolution were met, though many of us saw that not as a destination but as a route to somewhere else.

Yet Tennyson, Queen Victoria’s favourite poet, presciently saw the danger of “one good custom” that might “corrupt the world”. At some stage, what was the necessary flex within the system became frozen. Its innate conservatism was hijacked and became not a means for managing change, but for turning the clock back.

That is what was so symbolic about the last picture of the Queen that most of us will remember.

The monarch may have grown old, but she was still unshakeable in purpose, duty and belief.

Yet the new Prime Minister shaking her hand is glaringly, stridently and determinedly out of step with any and all such ideas.

Having talked to the new king on a range of subjects from environment to education, I not only like and respect him, I think he will be sincerely committed to a continuation of his mother’s wish and will work to make and guide a unified society based on values that she inherited and honed.

Of course, I want something very different for Scotland but in any case I suspect it can no longer be done.

Not only are those values in need of renewal and different expression, but they are also despised by the very people who need to be their champions.

No matter what it says, the Truss Tory government is actually based on greed, selfishness, democracy denial, climate change scepticism, isolation, exceptionalism and a hatred of equity and equality.

READ MORE: My mum supported Scottish independence and the Queen - this is why

History gives us no precise guidance even when there are similarities in the times.

Gerry Hassan usefully pointed out on Thursday that there has never before been a week in which the UK changed both prime minister and monarch.

The closest was in 1830 when those events took place within six months of each other.

They also ushered in, after a long period of repression and turbulence, the 1832 Great Reform Act and the start of modern democracy.

Is that, for Scotland at least, coincidence or a hopeful sign?

As Zhou Enlai suggested, only time will tell.