CHALLENGING times are ahead for aspiring politician James Kelly. The would-be Labour/Co-op MSP is facing a fierce contest for the Rutherglen seat in next year's Scottish Parliament elections. But it is a battle which he has every intention of winning.
At 42, family man James has been involved with the Co-op and Labour movements for over 20 years. He grew up near his current home in Cambuslang, which is just a few miles outside Glasgow. He remains loyal to the traditional values which he believes will still win out on election day.
"From a very young age I was always interested in politics. I grew up thinking the Labour Party and the Co-op Movement stood for social justice and improving the lives of ordinary people. And I still believe the people in my local community can see our influence is there improving their lives and sticking to the values which mean basic things like helping each other in difficult times.
"People still look for those beliefs, particularly older people who are a significant part of my constituency. It gives them reassurance.
"My local Co-op committee is also constantly involved in community projects and donates a lot of money to local causes such as schools and residents' groups."
James's prospective constituency has had more than its fair share of problems in recent years. Once traditional mining country, it suffered high unemployment in the 70s and 80s and major employers, such as the Hoover factory, closed their doors some years ago.
The once buoyant steel industry is now a distant memory. But, as James points out, there are positives too.
"In the last five years there has been a lot of new house building around here and though we are pretty limited in terms of local employment there are a fair proportion of jobs in the public sector and service industries.
"Many people who live in this area also commute every day to Glasgow, which is very much on the up."
An expert in the field of IT and computers, James is currently a business analyst for the electrical industry but he has a very solid political background.
He has served as agent for stalwart Labour/Co-op MP Tommy McAvoy at the last three General Elections and is also the chair of his local constituency party, Rutherglen and Hamilton West. In the forthcoming elections, he replaces sitting MSP Janis Hughes, who is standing down.
James's strongest supporters are his wife Alexa and two small daughters, Carys and Erin. There are currently eight Co-op MSPs and James's constituency is considered a Labour "safe one". But this time round he agrees things could be a little more challenging for Scottish Labour.
Though loyal to the Government and Tony Blair, James acknowledges that it could be time for the Prime Minister to make his future intentions a little clearer.
"I think Tony Blair has done an excellent job in winning three elections and promoting policies which have led to the integration of our Scottish Parliament.
"He has set out his timetable, and has said he is going to go in the next year. But I think we would certainly welcome some further clarity, on this issue.
"He should not be forced out. I believe he should be allowed to pick his time. But he should also be aware the party faces some very difficult elections and as each day goes by it becomes more important that the party has some clarity on this issue.
"I am looking forward to whatever time the leadership becomes vacant and I will be supporting Gordon Brown.
"In terms of the Scottish scene, I believe he is a huge asset. The Chancellor is very much part of what's been delivered up here. He's a very effective communicator and I look forward to seeing his future agenda."
Despite the recent storm clouds over the leadership, which saw many Scottish MPs back the attempted "coup" to get rid of Blair, James remains positive about his prospects.
"We have an experienced campaign team and I look forward to working as part of that team to secure success for Labour in 2007."
James says his campaign will focus on the many positives Labour has delivered in the Scottish Parliament, with issues like free travel, investment in health and the NHS and free care for the elderly being top of his agenda.
If elected to the Scottish Parliament, he plans to focus on his key areas of interest, which include the economy, education and health. "If we are looking to deliver and to win on the day then we have to bear in mind our traditions and keep in mind the people from ordinary backgrounds who are our mainstay."
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