Sortition is a form of direct, compulsory democracy whereby centralised power is devolved to smaller units of community, and representatives are chosen at random from the population. This dubious form of government has found its theatrical (possibly even devilish) advocate in a newly besuited and clean-shaven Adam Scarborough.
Within the wider process of Scarborough’s campaign for sortition, the show itself occupies a similar position to the triumphalist party conference—which, given that the Lib Dem conference is taking place just minutes away, makes it all the more prescient. Lanyard-wearing advisors mingle with video footage of interviews with Scottish MSPs and vox pops from the great unwashed of Glasgow. Scarborough utilises all the tropes of the party conference: the script is written like a piece of political oratory, with all the requisite manipulative techniques of rhetoric thrown in. As with other party conferences, pop music is used in a vacuous way to reinforce such rhetoric; in Sortition, Kanye West’s Power adopts a role analogous to the Reagan campaign’s use of Born in the USA, but with intentional rather than accidental irony.
Scarborough emulates these infuriating political rituals with impressive accuracy; although there’s something dissatisfying about witnessing this kind of real life theatricality in an already-theatrical space, this feeling of frustration seems like something that Scarborough intentionally courts, as if he wishes to put the audience off before involving them intimately in his schema. At the crux of the show, he descends from his podium and asks us our opinions on sortition. As soon as the audience were allowed a voice, the entire show came alive. As a sheerly theatrical gesture, it was fascinating to see the normally indefatigable individuals that make up a collective audience stand up and express their opinions about our contemporary political situation.
Involving the audience this way seemed to create a free space of productive discussion; simultaneously, the way that Scarborough conducted the audience remained manipulative, but in a more subtle way. When challenged on the potentially problematic aspects of sortition, he seemed unwilling to disagree with anyone—he even contradicted his political goal by admitting that sortition may not be the way forward—but he never went so far as to fully jettison the ideology he was peddling.
There was a mounting sense of an artificial openness, deftly conducted towards a predetermined conclusion. Most were on-side by the end, and, as Scarborough lapsed back into his rhetorical identity, there was a collective groan. Much like the pop songs that he parroted earlier, we had been co-opted into an ideological process that did not reflect our general will. It almost seemed like our involvement with the show was nothing more than the set-up to a joke.
Sortition seems, on reflection, strangely allegorical of the fundamental inability of politics to successfully surmount ideology and better represent citizens. Scarborough has inculcated a hugely immersive and compelling experience that raises vital questions about the relationship between politics and performance, without shirking from the vicissitudes of artistic self-implication. Hopefully his campaign will continue.