FIRST TIME homebuyers would be able to buy vacant properties for £1 and renovate them with a government loan under plans announced by Scottish Labour.

Leader Anas Sarwar said the “radical” scheme, based on trials south of the border, would help thousands of low-income families struggling to get on the housing ladder.

Speaking at the start of his party’s conference in Edinburgh, Mr Sarwar also announced plans for an ‘Amazon tax’, a business rates levy on large online retailer warehouses.

He also turned his fire on the likely candidates for the SNP leadership, saying all were to blame for grave problems in public services, and none could credibly fix them.

Looking ahead to the general election, he urged Tory Unionist voters to back Labour to thwart the SNP, and asked SNP voters to back Labour to oust the Tories.

There was humour in the 50-minute address, including a joke about football fans recently raising a colossal banner calling Douglas Ross a “c***” as he acted as a linesman.

Running through Mr Ross’s repeated flip-flopping over who should be Prime Minister last year, Mr Sarwar pretended to be receiving an update through an earpiece and declared: “VAR decision… Douglas Ross is… confused.”

Mr Sarwar said a Labour government at Holyrood would appoint a dedicated housing minister with the job of increasing hone ownership levels across the country.

He said: “There is no single solution to the housing crisis. It means building more houses, with the right infrastructure in place -  being innovative and ambitious in our plans.

“But it also means making better use of the homes we already have.

“While thousands struggle to get on the housing ladder, there are empty and derelict houses blighting our neighbourhoods - 27,000 long-term empty homes.

“ We believe these need to put back into use to create new homes and revitalise and renergise communities.

“I can announce today that a Scottish Labour government would create a £1 homes scheme.

“This radical policy would buy up these neglected houses and sell them on, for just £1, to future home owners.”

“It would give them a government-backed loan to transform them into homes that will be lived in and loved. Helping to regenerate neighbourhoods at the same time.

“In Scottish Labour, we know that a home is more than just somewhere to live.

"It is about security, stability and community.”

The party later said similar schemes had been hugely popular on Merseyside.

Under the plan, councils would identify and compulsorily purchase properties designated as long-term vacant, currently 18 months, with the average property costing £12,500.

The councils would then sell on the homes to those who met the criteria for a £1, and the new owners would be able to get a Government-backed loan to renovate the property.

If someone moved out within five years, there would be a clawback mechanism.

Owners would not be allowed to sublet the properties to encourage community cohesion.

Labour would also run a “council tax accelerator” pushing up the bills for vacant properties.

After 12 months vacant, the council tax bill would be twice the normal rate, then triple in the following year, and so on, rising to a maximum of 500 per cent of the standard bill.

The aim would be to encourage owners to sell or rent the homes to increase housing supply.

The ‘Amazon tax’ would be a business rates levy payable by warehouses occupied by online retailers without a substaintial high street presence.

It would be expected to raise around £20m a year, with the money shared across all 32 councils.

Mr Sarwar said: “In recent years many high street businesses have been impacted by the shift to online retail. We want online retailers to pay their fair share and that can start now.

“Just over the Forth Bridge in Dunfermline is a massive Amazon warehouse, covering more than 950,000 square feet. It’s the size of 14 football pitches.

“But because it’s not classed as a retail space, it pays millions of pounds less in tax than it would if it was a shop on the high street.

“Why should small and medium-sized businesses pay exorbitant rates while giant online corporations like Amazon get away with paying less than their fair share?”

“We can end this injustice. We have a plan that delivers growth and innovation, encourages good business, and no longer unfairly penalises our high streets.

“Today I can announce that we are committed to an Amazon Tax in Scotland which reflects today’s modern economy and make the system fairer.

“That’s how we rebuild our crumbling town centres and cities.”

Mr Sarwar also took several potshots at the SNP and its would-be leaders.

He said: “There was a time when we were regarded as the most divided party in Scottish politics.Not anymore. Today, while others are divided, we are a united party. 

“In the weeks ahead, the SNP will only be talking to themselves, about themselves. But our country, now more than ever, requires politicians focussed on delivering the change Scotland needs.”

He went on: “Because the truth is the SNP has nothing left to offer our country. They promised hope, but have given us arrogance.

“There is no other description for a government which cannot be honest and own up to its failings. A government which says it takes responsibility for everything, but is accountable for nothing. A government that is not on the side of the people, and is not working to deliver the people’s priorities.

“And who do they now want you to believe can fix this mess?

“The Health Secretary who has delivered the longest waiting times in our history?

“The air-miles Culture Secretary jetting around the world while cutting services here at home?  

“The Finance Secretary who has decimated local communities?

“The Justice Secretary who won’t give police officers the equipment they need?

“The very people who created this mess can’t be the ones to fix it.

“While the SNP turn inwards, we know what the people’s real priorities are.

“They want the NHS saved. They want community services improved. They want jobs created. This is what we will prioritise.That is the change Scotland needs.”

Talking of the need to to reach out to new voters to help Labour prosper at the general election - it currently has one MP - he appealed to both Tory and SNP voters.

He said: “My message to those who have previously voted Conservative is…Don’t reward their incompetence with your vote.Don’t give the SNP what they so desperately want.

“Put your trust in us. If you want a strong economy – it is Labour that will deliver it.

“If you want our country to stand strong on the world stage – it is only Labour that can rebuild our standing in the world.

“And if you value Scotland’s place within the UK, only Labour can now hold us together.

“Because while the Tories claim to be the champions of the UK…

“The truth is this: They are a gift for the nationalists. They have been a human shield for the SNP for 13 years. Every Tory failure a cover for SNP failure.

“Frankly, Scotland deserves better than both of them.”

He then added: “I want to make a direct appeal to people who have voted SNP in the past. 

“We understand your desire for change. We share it. We recognise your desire to get rid of the Tories. We share it. We know you dream of a brighter future.It’s a dream we share.

“Because this isn’t as good as it gets. You deserve better. Scotland deserves better. Change is possible. So let’s come together and boot the Tories out of Downing Street.” 

“Every vote for the SNP and the Tories is a vote to block change. But every vote for Labour is a vote for change.”

SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown said:“Anas Sarwar is making it crystal clear that he is happy to ignore the needs and voice of people across Scotland by backing Keir Starmer’s pro-Brexit agenda, which makes Labour indistinguishable from the Tories.

“The gall of Sarwar claiming to be an alternative to the Tories whilst bragging about the dodgy deal his party has made with the Tories in Edinburgh is staggering – they even suspended members who refused to team up with the Tories.

“Not one iota of Sarwar’s speech demonstrates that he is capable of tackling the challenges facing people across Scotland right now – as a results of an economic catastrophe created by Westminster – or that he is willing to stand up for Scottish democracy which is facing its biggest threat in the history of devolution as a result of Westminster attacks.

“Fundamentally, Anas Sarwar is openly showing people across Scotland that it makes no odds whether its Labour or the Tories in number 10 – Under Westminster control, Scotland faces a bleak future underpinned by Brexit and a right wing agenda.  Independence is the only way for Scotland to chart a better future.”

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said: “Anas Sarwar is taking voters for fools if he expects them to swallow his claim that Labour will stand up to the SNP and protect the union.

“Is this the same Anas Sarwar who ignored the concerns of the vast majority of Scots and whipped his MSPs to vote for Nicola Sturgeon’s reckless Gender Recognition Reform Bill?

“The truth is Anas Sarwar’s party vote with the SNP ninety per cent of the time, while naively touting more constitutional concessions in a doomed bid to placate them. He has been gushing in his praise for Nicola Sturgeon, instead of calling out her record of failure.

“The Scottish Labour leader actually claimed with a straight face that the Scottish Conservatives – the only party in Scotland to stand up to the Nationalists – were a gift to the SNP.

“If that were the case, he should ask himself why pro-independence strategists view a Keir Starmer government as their best route to securing another divisive referendum. 

“It’s because they know, as the public know, that Labour can’t be trusted to protect Scotland’s place in the UK.”