THERE is a hoary myth going round about a wilful Scottish Government wasting taxpayers’ money on the flagrant imposition of bilingual signs at every Scottish road and railway station, presumably as part of a dark conspiracy to make us all speak Gaelic and unwittingly vote en masse for independence.

It is one of many misunderstandings, and occasional slurs, perpetuated by some who resent any money being spent on Gaelic.

“It’s a dead language, why revive it?” ask critics, who presumably think we should discard anything that hints of the kailyard or sounds like it might have been hummed by subversives at a Calum Kennedy show in the bad old days of “It’s Scotland’s Oil”. There are a recorded 57,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, hardly a threatening number among a population of 5.3 million.

And yes, as critics point out, there may be more speakers of Urdu or Punjabi in urban areas. In fact, the 2011 census revealed that Polish is the most common second language in our schools. I’m not aware of any secret plans to reflect that fact but if you plan to spread the rumour, the Polish for road sign is “znaki drogowe”. Look out, it could be lurking anywhere.

Gaelic has an influence on our culture and history that reaches beyond the spoken word. Support for the language says something about our attitudes towards culture, particularly the traditions of the west Highlands and Hebridean isles.

The creation of Sabhal mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye, the launch of the TV channel BBC Alba, and even those road signs exhibit a determination to reflect Gaelic’s influence on Scottish life. Support is not an overtly nationalist act (in fact it is backed by every major Scottish party) but it does help define what “being Scottish” means, just as we take pride in there being separate legal and education systems north of the Border. Gaelic schooling is popular in Glasgow, just as it is on Raasay or Benbecula.

Thanks to Brexit, Gaelic feels under new threat. The minority languages of the UK – Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and Irish – enjoy recognition and protection by the EU. Irish Gaelic is protected in the Good Friday Agreement. There is a sense that Europe, home to muscular lobbies such as Breton, Basque and Catalan, understands the issues more readily. The EU is an important funding source for key social and economic projects, often in areas whose economies are as fragile as the language itself.

The creative media centre at Stornoway, home to the broadcast organisation MG Alba, received substantial EU funding to match local expenditure, for example. The big question is whether a post-Brexit Westminster will care about taking on similar commitments. Holyrood might bridge gaps but, ultimately, that may depend on central funding too. Even the hard-line Brexiter acknowledges the UK won’t be swimming in cash when the big break comes.

Minority language groups across the UK say the Brexit effect is “potentially disastrous”. What a shame it would be if the fragile status of Gaelic took a new, negative twist as an unintended consequence of “taking back control” from Europe.