gary tank commander

Comedians and politicians are right up there in terms of public figures operating constantly on the precipice of imminent audience alienation.  As such, the BBC’s Gary Tank Commander Election Special was always going to be a high-risk commission, not for the broadcaster, or Gary for that fact, but most definitely for the party leaders.

For the uninitiated, Gary’s ‘election special’ programme comprised an edit of six individual interviews, hosted by the commander himself, questioning the leaders of each of the Scottish political parties; SNP, UKIP, Scottish Labour, Scottish Greens, Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Lib Dems.   The aim was to discuss the central policy objectives and intentions of each of the parties in a manner and language that the general public would understand and relate to.

So, did Gary’s Election Specials command new audience attention, or tank with existing political audiences?  And, did the format succeed in ‘finding oot what it’s aw aboot’?



An overwhelmingly positive response to the interviews was voiced readily across social media. The Tank Commander’s mission to make politics widely accessible and digestible appears to have been a success receiving highly positive reactions such as ‘making the elections fun & actually interesting’, ‘best election coverage ever’, ‘Gary needs to do a political show so I can understand it all’, ‘wishing all politics was as interesting’ and ‘this is how we want our politics’.

In fact, ‘language’ and ‘understanding’ were words central to social media reactions of this broadcast and, interestingly, most often contextualised as being ‘interesting’.  Analysis observed a movement of opinion with younger audiences that political coverage is ‘unnecessarily overcomplicated’ and that the format of this broadcast was ‘informative’ (if not quite informational) ‘most informative election piece so far’ and ‘helpful’, ‘helped me cement ma vote!’, ‘thank you, I now know who to vote for’, ‘now I’m ready to vote’, ‘this video will help you decide who to vote for’.

What was also clear, from a number of comments, was that viewers were drawing conclusions about the political candidates as individuals based on their interviews; these broadcasts were significantly influencing the voting decisions of certain groups via social media and mobilising them to find out more about particular candidates and parties.



All candidates received both positive and negative reactions, but as the (extremely) dominant emotion was positivity we’ve looked at who won the highest volume of this sentiment.  It was Ruth Davidson.

Ruth connected strongly with younger viewers who appreciated her banter, particularly her use of the term ‘ne pas de shamey shan’ (regarding the ‘shan chat’ of her opponents) and ‘I’d deck you in a fight’, eliciting responses such as ‘Reckon her & I would be besties’, ‘you’ve got my vote’ and ‘definitely my favourite’. Contextually, this was a younger audience overall and it seems perhaps that Ruth and her advisers knew that it presented a huge opportunity to pitch to this audience, which is harder to connect with.  And if that was the case, it worked.

Overall the concept of the comedic style political interviews proved to be extremely effective in generating ‘positive press’ for those candidates who were able to ‘handle the craic’ and provided chat which viewers could relate to. The concept enabled the public to see “a very human, funny side of politics” which many said showed (some of) the Scottish leaders to be “really down to earth”.

Whilst many people appear to have been inspired to seek out more information on the political leaders and their parties, some appeared to look no further than the videos; this identifies the only potentially negative side to this approach of political interviewing. ‘I feel no parties have reached out to me, so making my decision based on which MP had best banter in the @GARYTANK interview’.

If people are taking these comedic videos as their sole basis for voting, it is arguable that they should be presented within a wider and balanced informational framework, even if that is as simple as providing links to the all party websites.  More so given the recent lowering of the voting age coupled with the average demographics of the medium.


Returning to the opening questions. Did Gary’s Election Specials command new audience attention, or tank with existing political audiences?  Analysis shows that this format did connect with the electorate and did succeed in engaging with an emerging younger voting audience.  Notwithstanding a handful of reactions citing the broadcast as ‘shameful’ and ‘embarrassing’, it does not appear to have alienated existing politically engaged audiences.



And finally, did it succeed in ‘finding oot what it’s aw aboot’?  Nah, of course it didn’t. But there is evidence that it has motivated further consideration and enquiry and that represents an interesting format win.

Electioneering in the social age is changing.  And arguably needs to change at far faster pace.  This format may not be to everyone’s taste but, certainly in Scotland with the lowering of the voting age, it was a bold and astute move on the part of the BBC.  And, it would appear, candidates who are primed to harness and capitalise these tactical format opportunities are undoubtedly going to pique the interest of both younger audiences and those maturing towards the voting age.

This format, by its nature, presented certain Scottish Party Leaders as positively prehistoric. So perhaps the key takeout from Gary Tank Commander’s Election Special is prepare to future proof, or perish. 


This blog is published by Disruptive Insight on Thursday 5th May 2016 following thematic analysis of 12,648 social media reactions to the Gary Tank Commander Election Special.  Posts were gathered within the date range Thurs 28 Apr – Wed 4 May 2016.

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