Anyway, this is what will apparently happen, in the absence of a (highly probable) legal challenge or a sudden outbreak of common sense...
"2. For the ballot in the Scottish Parliament Regions of Glasgow, Lothian, North East Scotland and West Scotland—
a. a ranked list will be produced from the member’s votes;
b. if the candidate in first place has responded to the survey advising that they are BAME, the ranked list will be made public as it is;
c. in other cases, the highest placed candidate who has responded to the survey advising that they are BAME and who has indicated that they wish to be included in the ‘reserved places mechanism’ will be made the first placed candidate on the list which is made public.
3. For the ballot in the Scottish Parliament Regions of Mid Scotland & Fife, Central Scotland, South Scotland and Highlands & Islands—
a. a ranked list will be produced from the member’s votes;
b. if the candidate in first place has responded to the survey advising that they are a disabled person, the ranked list will be made public as it is;
c. in other cases, the highest placed candidate who has responded to the survey advising that they are a disabled person and who has indicated that they wish to be included in the ‘reserved places mechanism’ will be made the first placed candidate on the list which is made public."
There's no danger of that winning a plain English award, but what it seems to mean is that candidates who declare themselves to be BAME or disabled but do not declare a wish to be included in the reserved places mechanism will be discriminated against just as much as the non-BAME, non-disabled candidates. Additionally, of course, if you're a BAME candidate in one of the 'wrong' four regions, or a disabled candidate in one of the 'wrong' four regions, you will also be discriminated against. This is particularly a problem for BAME candidates whose home region has been set aside for a disabled person, and vice versa.
Here's an example of how the system would work in practice. Suppose SNP members in Mid-Scotland & Fife decide to rank their list candidates as follows -
1) Carson Campbell (BAME)
2) Iona Quigley (non-protected)
3) Petra Brady (disabled)
4) Una Robertson (non-protected)
5) Hector Johnston (non-protected)
6) Brian Thompson (non-protected)
7) John Leckie (disabled)
So the contest has been won fair and square by a BAME candidate - great, you might think, but I'm afraid Mr Campbell is out of luck, because he's stood in a region in which the discrimination is in favour of disabled people. So he's shunted down to Number 2 on the list, where he's unlikely to be elected as an MSP unless the SNP lose constituency seats. The hopes are even more forlorn for the person who was actually voted to be Number 2 - Iona Quigley is in a non-protected category and is artificially demoted to Number 3. Wonderful news, though, for the top-ranked disabled candidate Petra Brady? Well, I'm afraid not! When she filled in her form, she indicated that she wanted to be ranked on her merits and didn't want to participate in the protected places scheme, so she's discriminated against and is demoted to Number 4. After the adjustment, the person who tops the list is John Leckie - who the members wanted to be ranked bottom, and who is much less popular than another disabled candidate, and also much less popular than two other candidates from protected categories.
Adjusted result after discrimination:
1) John Leckie (disabled)
2) Carson Campbell (BAME)
3) Iona Quigley (non-protected)
4) Petra Brady (disabled)
5) Una Robertson (non-protected)
6) Hector Johnston (non-protected)
7) Brian Thompson (non-protected)
There's obviously a big debate over whether positive discrimination is even appropriate in candidate selection, but if you're going to do it, this is the absolute worst way of doing it - an East German-style altering of an actual election result to declare the last-placed candidate the winner. That's a recipe for people walking out of the party in disgust when they realise their votes have been treated with contempt. Much better would be to have separate ballots for protected and non-protected candidates.
However, the whole idea is misconceived for all sorts of reasons. Firstly, if the plan is to increase BAME and disabled representation in the Scottish Parliament, why put all your eggs in the basket of the list? In some cases, the SNP might need to lose constituency seats for even the Number 1 candidate on the list to be elected. Isn't it a bit odd to say "we're trying to win these constituency seats even though that could scupper our plans for a more representative parliament"?
Secondly, why are an equal number of regions being set aside for BAME and disabled candidates, when there are far, far more disabled people in Scotland than BAME people? According to official figures, 4% of the population is non-white, which means there should be five non-white MSPs on a strictly proportional basis (there are actually two). Given that the SNP will only win around half the seats in Holyrood, their contribution to those five non-white MSPs should be around two or three - and they already have one in Humza Yousaf. So why are there four protected BAME places on the list? By contrast, the definition of 'disabled' being used is so sweeping that it must include an enormous proportion of the population. Indeed, it's so sweeping that it's impossible to tell what proportion of current MSPs are disabled. "Not all disabilities are visible" as the saying goes.
Thirdly, why are certain ethnic minorities such as "gypsy/travellers" and "Polish" specifically excluded from the BAME protected places? As far as I know we don't have any traveller MSPs, and no-one can say that travellers aren't victims of horrendous discrimination in wider society - the current leader of the Scottish Conservative Party is on record as saying he would crack down on them if he was Prime Minister for a day.
Fourthly, there's the question of the quality and suitability of the candidates who could end up as SNP MSPs as a result of this mechanism. I was recently subjected to a volley of invective from Graham Campbell, who is seeking one of the BAME protected places. He effectively accused me of racism simply for using the term "identity politics" (even though it should have been obvious from the context that I was talking about the trans issue), and ranted about the evils of "patriarchal capitalism", which presumably he wants to overthrow. On the face of it those are far-left views, and it's not unreasonable for SNP members to want to consider properly and have the final say on whether they wish someone who holds those views to be their standard-bearer.
Fifthly, the SNP NEC has apparently been advised by Scotland's foremost legal expert on these matters that the protected places scheme would be unlawful, and that a successful legal challenge could potentially bankrupt the party. Given that such an outcome might end any chance of independence in the foreseeable future, the fact that the NEC has ignored that advice does not exactly quell suspicions that the SNP has been the victim of entryism by people with an agenda on which independence does not figure highly.