IT should be obvious, but you can’t solve a problem until you admit that such a problem exists.

Take the current work that I am undertaking with a talented and dedicated group of SNP members to review the party’s governance and transparency. There was, to repeat a word I have been criticised for using, a degree of complacency about the internal operations of the party which needed to be acknowledged before it could be tackled.

I admit to my own share of that complacency, of course, but in mitigation, I would argue that the need for change has often been hindered, rather than helped, by constant, wide-ranging, self-interested, often entirely inaccurate and frequently cruel and personal attacks on the party and its leadership by those who were grinding their own axes.

And some still can’t accept that this attitude is hampering rather than furthering the independence cause – which needs unity to succeed.

That is another example of how nothing can change until a crucial stumbling block is recognised and acted on – which in this case means agreeing to respectfully differ on some things in order to act together on others.

It is greatly to the credit of the retiring chief constable of Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone, that he has had the sense and courage to admit that his organisation is – in his own words – “institutionally racist and discriminatory”.

Moreover, he specifically acknowledged in his remarks to the Scottish Police Authority that his admission was because, as he put it, “publicly acknowledging these institutional issues exist in our organisation is essential to our absolute commitment to championing equality.”

Institutional racism was defined by the 1999 Macpherson report as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”.

Almost 25 years on, it is clearer than ever that a range of organisations in our society – Scottish as well as UK – are still institutionally discriminatory. There are, of course, many good people and leaders like Iain Livingstone, who in their everyday work are determined to change such a situation and such individuals are slowly succeeding.

But one of the headwinds working against them is the so-called “war on woke”, which is gaining ground in America and being emulated on this side of the Atlantic.

The African American word “woke” simply means being alert to racial prejudice and discrimination. That is something we should all be – awake to the injustices and cruelties that still abound, horrified by their past expression and focused on eliminating them for the future.

Yet the word has increasingly become a term of right-wing and tabloid abuse which has almost replaced that old mantra about “political correctness gone mad” which was regularly and offensively trotted out as an excuse for what used to be called, euphemistically, saloon-bar prejudice.

Of course, people are entitled to disagree with what they believe are restrictions on their ability to express their views.

The right to protest should never be dependent on the personal whims of politicians regarding what is being protested against. Freedom of speech is non-negotiable within the broad limit of laws rightly forbidding incitement to hatred and violence.

However, it is also true that rights must always be exercised with respect for others. As the unjustly neglected Scottish playwright Joan Ure once wryly observed, we have long experience in Scotland of freedom of religion becoming instead the freedom to persecute others.

Consequently, we should recognise that for some, the next step from asserting the right to be heard is, regrettably, not to grant that privilege to all, but instead to try and take it away from those with whom one disagrees.

IN that regard, the attempt to forbid young people in a Florida elementary school from reading the anti-racist, visionary poem recited by the American Youth Laureate Amanda Gorman at President Biden’s inauguration is – whilst unwelcome – not unexpected.

The governor of Florida, now would-be Republican president, Ron DeSantis has been perusing his own “war on woke” with vigour for some time. DeSantis – using the excuse of that infinitely variable concept of “accuracy” – has aggressively targeted, seemingly with relish, businesses and schools who are attempting to assert the right to freedom of expression and open debate about sexuality and racism amongst other issues.

His approach has deliberately and knowingly encouraged censorship, emboldened right-wing parents and frightened equally right-wing local authorities to remove hundreds of books from schools and libraries. Now he’s even trying to outlaw individual artworks, poems and a 500-year-old Italian statue.

We should be worried enough by this, given DeSantis’s ambitions, but even more worried that on a visit to London last month, he met with leading “anti-woke” Tory minister Kemi Badenoch and praised her efforts to stop what he called the “corruption” of British society, claiming that they were “two great conservative fighters on a mission”.

That mission – no matter what they claim – is a direct threat to the elimination of institutional racism and discrimination.

Instead of creating, in the words of Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem, “a country committed to all cultures, colours, characters and conditions of man”, it is leading to increasingly bitter divisions stoked by politicians whose actions are stirring up hatred and prejudice.

That must not be allowed to happen. We need, as Amanda Gorman goes on to say “ to lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.”

We must continue to be awake to the problems that exist all around us and be ever more motivated to resolve them – problems such as racism, sexism, misogyny and discrimination which were all mentioned by Iain Livingstone this week.

That is how you build a new country – by acknowledging what is wrong and collectively working to set it right.

In other words, by being woke.