THE SNP’s governing NEC has backed a plan to put BAME and disabled candidates at the top of the regional lists for May’s elections.

It follows a vote at the party’s conference to look at “setting aside” seats for under-represented groups. 

But it could end up being contested, after a QC hired to give an opinion on the new process suggested it was legally “dubious”. 

In advice shared among NEC members and leaked to the Wings Over Scotland blog, the lawyer warned it could be “struck down in the courts if challenged".

Party chiefs have been desperate to improve BAME representation for some years. At the 2019 General Election, every single SNP hopeful was white. 

And despite 22 BAME candidates putting themselves forward for selection in May’s Holyrood vote, just two were picked, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, and Kaukab Stewart in Glasgow Kelvin.

Last October, Yousaf told The National he was “beyond disappointed” at the result. 

“Once again, it is a person of Scots-Asian origin who is representing a seat in Glasgow. In the 20 year history of devolution the only BAME MSPs to be elected have been Scots-Asian and from Glasgow. We should, and could, have done better.”

He added: “It was merely a matter of months ago that the Scottish Parliament pledged its support, unanimously, for the Black Lives Matters movement.

“As things stand, the SNP does not have a single Black candidate going into the Holyrood elections. That can’t be right.”

At a meeting of the National Executive Committee on Sunday, the NEC agreed to “introduce a ‘reserved places’ mechanism on the Regional Lists to address the under representation of BAME candidates and disabled candidates".

That means that the top place on each list will automatically go to a disabled candidate in four regions, and to a BAME candidate in the other four regions. 

The NEC also agreed to draft “a specific mechanism resolution to National Conference which will cover all statutory elections, triggered in any case where there is under-representation”.

It also committed the SNP to work with other parties to change equality legislation, “in order to allow the same mechanisms currently available to address gender inequalities to also be made available in respect of other protected characteristics including BAME individuals and in respect of those who are disabled persons".

This, the body said, should be included as a commitment in the manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections.

The opinion from Jonathan Mitchell QC told the party the proposal was "however well-intentioned, of very dubious legality and is likely to be struck down in the courts if challenged".

The leaked document led to a furious row among SNP supporters on social media.

Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny said the decision was one of the "most incompetent moves in the history of the SNP".

He said it would "block disabled people and BAME people being elected for the SNP in 50% of the country, and people that aren’t disabled/BAME have been blocked from election in 100% of Scotland".

Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss - who sits on the NEC - said the law was out-of-date: “When the Equalities Act was drawn up, it didn't have the regional list in mind. It was based on Westminster FPTP selections. 

“I see no reason why we as the SNP, as the biggest party in Scotland, should not try to test this and further the cause of underrepresented groups.

“Because if we don't, we miss an opportunity for new talent and new voices. People who are part of our country, with a lot to give. We miss this chance for a further five years."

The SNP have been approached for comment.