Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn will be his party’s first leader to pay an official visit to the Borders for over half a century when he hits the campaign trail in Selkirk next week, it is believed.
With Labour traditionally attracting little support in the region, a Liberal stronghold until relatively recently, it had never seemed politically expedient in the past for its leaders, from Harold Wilson in the 1960s to Mr Corbyn’s predecessor, Ed Miliband, to attempt to woo Borderers in person.
However, the Islington North MP will spend over an hour in the town on Monday to offer his support to Scott Redpath, the party’s candidate at Scottish Borders Council’s forthcoming Selkirkshire by-election.
The visit is unexpected as it is not thought Labour has any realistic chance of taking the seat on Thursday, February 22.
However, Mr Corbyn has previously expressed his commitment to campaign the length and breadth of the UK, not just in the party’s traditional heartlands.
He is expected at Eildon Housing at Ettrick Mill at about 10am to discuss the company’s role as a living wage employer and its efforts to provide affordable homes in the Borders.
Later, he’ll chat with shoppers in Selkirk High Street and is expected to call into Cameron’s the Bakers to taste its Selkirk bannock.
Mr Redpath received less than 4% of the votes cast at last year’s local election, but the shop worker remains hopeful of significantly increasing his support this time round.
Mr Corbyn, also visiting Glasgow, accepted an invitation to call into the town from Jedburgh-born Ian Davidson, a Labour MP in Glasgow from 1992 to 2015 and a candidate for the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk seat won by John Lamont for the Conservatives in June last year.
The Labour leader has helped transform his party since winning the leadership three years ago.
He has also become a cult figure both within and outside politics, making high-profile appearances at events around the country, including last summer’s Glastonbury Festival.
Mr Redpath voted for Mr Corbyn in both his leadership elections, and he said: “I’m very happy and proud he has found the time to come and offer my campaign his support.
“It just backs his pledge to travel the length and breadth of the country to get Labour’s message across.”
Mr Davidson said: “I can’t recall a Labour Party leader ever paying a visit to the Borders.
“The last minister I can remember coming was George Brown in 1965, the year David Steel won the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles seat.
“He is prepared to go anywhere to get the party’s message across, not just to its heartlands.”
Success in Scotland is seen as almost essential if Labour is to win power at Westminster at the next general election.
Mr Corbyn’s power base north of the Border was reinforced in November last year when Scottish Labour elected his supporter Richard Leonard as its new leader.
Mr Leonard is the fourth leader since the 2014 Scottish independence referendum left the party in disarray.
At last June’s general election, Labour won seven Parliamentary seats in Scotland, attracting 717,000 votes, an increase of six seats on its dire performance of just one seat at the 2015 national poll.
Also standing in the Selkirkshire by-election are Trevor Adams for the Conservatives, Jack Clark for the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party’s Barbra Harvie, the Scottish National Party’s John Mitchell and two independents, Kenneth Gunn and Caroline Penman.