SCOTTISH National Party (SNP) MPs have sent out a “significant” message about group solidarity at Westminster since their election to the House of Commons in May, according to the Speaker.
The SNP won 50% of Scottish votes in the general election to secure an unprecedented 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats.
John Bercow said many of the MPs are “already proving to be very good parliamentarians” and said they deserve respect for the way they have turned up regularly in large numbers to support each other in the chamber.
Mr Bercow made the comments during a public event at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe organised by the University of Edinburgh’s Business School.
Asked how the Scottish nationalists - who now form the third largest party in the Commons - have changed the parliament, the Speaker said: “The significant thing is not how the SNP have changed parliament, because I don’t think yet that they have.
“I think the significant thing is that, whatever you think of the SNP, their parliamentary party has said something very significant by its behaviour since May about group solidarity.
“They turn up in large numbers, they turn up very regularly, they turn up to support each other and a lot of them are already proving to be very good parliamentarians.
“It’s not for me to support the SNP or oppose the SNP and I wouldn’t dream of doing so, but I’m simply saying respect where it’s due.”
He went on: “There may seem a bit of an irony about this because the SNP want to secede from the United Kingdom, they don’t want to be part of the UK Parliament. But there’s no hypocrisy, there’s no conflict of principle.
“They are elected members of parliament and they have a duty to discharge on behalf of their constituents and in support of their principles and their party and that’s what they’re doing.
“They turn up very regularly and they turn up to powerful effect and I think that does deserve respect.”
Mr Bercow said Nicola Sturgeon’s party has already “exerted some influence” in the Commons, as he pointed to the issue of hunting.
An SNP pledge to vote against Government moves to water down the hunting ban in England and Wales last month forced the Conservatives to shelve their plans.
Mr Bercow said: “They have already scored a notable political victory - I’m not making any comment on the merits or otherwise of the arguments - in the sense that there was to be a vote brought forward on the subject of hunting and whether to amend the law on hunting to liberalise it somewhat.
“The Government chose not to bring forward that measure and that did follow the announcement by the SNP that they would in fact vote against the Government. I think there is a link there and I think they certainly packed a punch on that subject.”
In a wide-ranging discussion, Mr Bercow also indicated that the House could change its stance on applause within the chamber if MPs so wished.
In May, the Speaker told SNP MPs to stop clapping during a response from the party’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson to the Queen’s Speech.
Asked why they were not allowed to applaud, Mr Bercow said: “I think my attitude to that is if the House wants to change its procedures, it can, if they vote to do so.”
He said “the House doesn’t like applause as a method of approval” and insisted that changes should not come about “on the hoof”.
But he added: “Could the House change the procedure and would I then be the sevant of that new procedure? It could and I would.”