New Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy knows he has his work cut out for him – and nowhere more so than in the Borders.
The region is hardly well known for its track record in electing parliamentarians, or even councillors for that matter, from his party.
In fact, it has been over a decade since there was even a Labour local authority councillor, with the last being a Tweeddale member, the late Brian Brockie, who retired at the 2003 election.
The only Labour-elected representative the region has is in the shape of South of Scotland MSP Claudia Beamish.
But Murphy has pledged to unite his party and Scotland after the independence referendum in September, and he wants to make inroads into non-traditional Labour areas like the Borders.
And how he fares north of the border could prove integral to the shape of the next UK government.
Holding on to Labour’s 40 Scottish seats is a key plank of UK Labour leader Ed Miliband’s hopes of becoming prime minister after May’s general election.
But it will not be an easy task. The resignation of his predecessor as leader, Johann Lamont, amid allegations that senior UK Labour figures treated Scotland like a “branch office” opened up divisions.
However, Murphy was the clear heir apparent after his profile soared in Scotland as a result of his by now-famous “100 towns in 100 days” speaking tour in support of the No campaign that saw him addressing crowds atop a couple of old Irn Bru crates.
Glasgow-born Murphy, 47, is currently MP for East Renfrewshire and will have to win a seat in the Scottish Parliament if he ever hopes to become Scotland’s First Minister.
Speaking exclusively to The Southern, he said he wanted to get a simple message across to Borders voters.
“The Scottish Labour Party is under fresh management and new leadership.
“That’s not just a message I want to get over to all those in the Borders who have traditionally voted Labour in the past.
“I would also ask other voters who have perhaps not considered voting Labour to take a second look at us.
“What I want to do is build a new coalition of voters. I am well aware the Borders is not a traditional Labour area – but then East Renfrewshire was not a traditional Labour area either.
“That’s why I want to bring the shadow cabinet down to the Borders as soon as possible, so people can see and hear for themselves what we are about.
“And I want suggestions from people in the Borders as to what would be a suitable location for such a visit.”
First elected to Westminster in 1997 with a majority of more than 10,000, Murphy enjoyed a spectacular career trajectory under first Tony Blair, and then Gordon Brown.
A government loyalist, he became a party whip, then a junior minister, and eventually a cabinet role as Secretary of State for Scotland from 2008 until Labour’s UK election defeat in 2010.
And there’s also the “Blairite” tag to overcome – Murphy backed controversial Labour government policies such as the Iraq War and student fees.
He also worked on David Miliband’s unsuccessful Labour leadership campaign and was later reshuffled to the shadow international development brief in 2013.
Murphy says he is enjoying his new role, albeit one he’s only filled for a month.
“I hope I can make a difference,” he said.
And asked why he thinks Labour has had such a poor showing in the Borders at the ballot box, Murphy replied: “To be honest I think sometimes in the past the Labour Party hasn’t worked hard enough – there’s an old saying in politics, ‘don’t blame the voters’.
“Perhaps we have been perceived as too much of a Central Belt party in the past. We have to ensure we are perceived as a party for the whole of Scotland.”
Murphy’s certainly no stranger to hard work. A teetotal vegetarian, he is one of the fittest MPs at Westminster, thanks to marathon training and a love of football.
Murphy says a key message has to be that it is not just about spending public money, but about the generation of wealth.
“Scotland has got two governments – the UK government of the Tories and Lib Dems, and the Scottish government of the SNP.
“It’s very apparent in the Borders that there is an appetite for real change. There’s no magic wand, but the Borders isn’t getting that change from either of these governments.
“The SNP is obsessed with independence, while the UK government is in danger of complacency when it comes to addressing the problems facing somewhere like the Borders.
“Hardship and family poverty is not just a Central Belt issue. There’s hidden hurt in the Borders, where families are just not featuring as part of the media conversation.
“These people need a champion, they need a voice to get real change.”
Murphy also says that the transfer of powers from London to Edinburgh is in danger of “flying straight over” the heads of Borderers.
“What we want is more powers devolved down to areas like the Borders. I think people in the Borders, families and businesses know better what are the issues they are facing, than ministers sitting in Edinburgh.
“The Labour Party wants to see more power out of the hands of ministers and into the hands of local people in the Borders, where the local council and businesses can work together and start to deliver a different way of doing things.
“I think people in the Borders will often ask why everything has to happen in Edinburgh – well, it doesn’t as far as I am concerned.”
“So tell the people of the Borders we’re coming – Labour is coming!”