A LEAVE vote could have a damaging effect on the state of Gaelic, according to one of Scotland’s leading experts on the language.

Boyd Robertson, principal of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, said Brexit would threaten the “very fragile” status of the language.

He warned an “insular-minded” government at Westminster could undo important work at EU level to protect the status of minority languages.

“The Gaelic situation is still very fragile, and any turbulence that might be caused by the withdrawal from Europe would not be helpful,” he said.

Robertson highlighted the positive impact of the EU on Gaelic, particularly through the Charter for the Protection of Minority Languages.

The Council of Europe adopted the charter in 1992 in order to help protect regional and minority languages and encourage their use in education, the media, social life and cultural activities.

However, it took the UK almost a decade to eventually ratify the charter, only granting new status and protection to Gaelic, Scots, Irish, Welsh and Ulster Scots in 2001.

Robertson said: “I would hope that the policies are now fairly consolidated within both the UK and the Scottish government, and that there will not be regression.

“But the fear would be what might happen with a particularly insular-minded government in Westminster following any withdrawal from Europe.”

In 2005, the Scottish Parliament passed the Gaelic Language Act, the first piece of legislation to give the language formal recognition.

With it came the arrival of Bòrd na Gàidhlig – the public body which aims to secure a sustainable future for the language, and works towards the delivery of the National Gaelic Language Plan.

“The EU charter has been beneficial because it places duties upon the UK and Scottish governments in education and other spheres of activity such as broadcasting, and these have been important drivers of policy in regard to Gaelic,” said Robertson, an original member of Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

“The charter has changed the landscape, and changed the climate in regard to the way in which states handle minority languages.”

According to Robertson, this has in turn encouraged Westminster and Holyrood to introduce measures to protect and develop minority languages.

“That has undoubtedly had a positive impact, which withdrawal from the EU might impair,” he said.

He fears levels of funding for Gaelic promotion will be hit should the UK vote Leave today.

Robertson expressed particular concern for the future of BBC Alba, which he described as “starved of resources” that it needs to allow it to produce a range of programmes.

In November last year, Chancellor George Osborne effectively cut 100 per cent of UK Government funding to BBC Alba by failing to renew the annual £1 million grant from the department of culture, media and sport.

The decision was branded “malicious and short-sighted” by broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove.

The cut came despite the channel attracting a weekly audience of more than 700,000 and attracting 7.4 million iPlayer views of BBC Alba programmes in 2014/2015.

The channel, which is run by broadcaster MG Alba in partnership with BBC Scotland, receives core funding of £11.8m from the Scottish Government and since 2014 has received an additional £1m each year.

This has allowed to channel to produce original programmes including comedy Two Days in October, Skye-based drama Bannan and a children’s series based on Mairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag books.

However, it currently relies on repeat programming to fill its schedule.

“The role of BBC Alba has to be protected,” said Robertson, “and there would be a danger with withdrawal from the European Union that it will not have the priority it should have.”